An injection of CARES Act funding is allowing a local organization to spearhead a new program that provides incentives for landlords to house the homeless.
ReEntry Alliance Pensacola Inc. will get $200,000 of a $3.5 million grant issued by the state and distributed by Opening Doors of Northwest Florida to help find permanent housing for those impacted by the pandemic.
Homeless advocates say the 12-month program is a significant step because that population — those who are homeless or at an immediate risk — are often rejected from rental applications due to barriers like bad credit or not having a security deposit.
The funding will provide case management, rapid rehousing and temporary financial assistance to 100 clients by offering cash bonuses for landlords who sign on as community partners, and by paying bills like security deposits, utility bills and deposits, moving cost assistance, credit repair and legal services to those in need.
$3 million for homelessness: Pensacola City Council supports spending $3 million on homelessness but wants specifics
CivicCon: Why aren’t landlords doing more to address homelessness? Because nobody asked
John Johnson, executive director of Opening Doors, said the landlord incentives especially help mitigate the risk of housing the homeless population. The funding is a one-time grant, but Johnson said he hopes the innovative approach is indicative of how agencies can approach preventing and solving homelessness.
“Our hope is that landlord incentives will be something we’ll be able to have in our arsenal moving forward,” he said.
Vinnie Whibbs, executive director of REAP, said the pandemic has heavily impacted the homeless, and REAP’s clients often had difficulties finding suitable housing even before then.
REAP helps connect those who were formerly incarcerated with services and resources to reintegrate into society, but as the administrator of the rehousing program, it will be open to any community member.
“This attacks it from two different ways,” Whibbs said. “It’s an enticement to landlords to make them more apt to rent to these individuals with signing bonuses and other kinds of incentives and then for the tenants, the money doesn’t go directly to them but it makes payments like rent or utility bills.”
REAP is also expanding its current housing services to include those who are in need of permanent housing due to job loss or sickness during the pandemic, but have been re-hired and can prove they have a stable and reliable income.
Both Johnson and Whibbs said a secondary issue is the lack of affordable rental housing stock in the area that leads to a competitive rental market, but they hope the incentives will be a step in the right direction.
“It’s definitely a market that’s very, very competitive,” Johnson said. “For those individuals, families or households who need assistance, the landlord inducement gives them an opportunity to achieve that.”
The full $3.5 million of the CARES Act funding being distributed by Opening Doors has already been allocated to programs run by local agencies, but the REAP landlord incentive is the first program announcement coming from that funding pool. More announcements are expected soon.
The Opening Doors funding is one of two large funding injections going to homeless services soon.
The city of Pensacola allocated about $3 million in its CARES Act funding to address homelessness. That funding hasn’t yet been distributed to any agencies or organizations, though, and city officials are still determining the best process to handle those funds.
Emma Kennedy can be reached at [email protected] or 850-480-6979.