By Jason van Rassel, Calgary Herald July 11, 2013

Private landlords are teaming up with Calgary’s non-profit sector to make it easier to find stable housing for people emerging from homelessness.

The Calgary Residential Rental Association is challenging its members to make 500 units available for social agencies to place their clients over the next year.

“From our perspective, it’s going to provide a hand up to people who need a hand up,” said rental association executive director Gerry Baxter, whose organization represents 600 landlords with a portfolio of approximately 50,000 units.

Right now, not many of them are vacant; the city’s vacancy rate is sitting at 1.2 per cent. The rental market is expected to get even tighter as people displaced by last month’s flooding search for new places to live and landlords repair damaged properties.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the full impact of what the flood will do — prior to that, we were struggling, too,” said Carlene Donnelly, executive director of Calgary Urban Project Society.

The agreement announced Wednesday between the CRRA and the Calgary Homeless Foundation is designed to give landlords incentives to rent to clients of eight city agencies.

In exchange for landlords offering units to low-income clients, the agencies agree to provide rent assurances, pay security deposits and cover any additional damage, if necessary.

The landlords charge and receive market value rents, but the agreement protects them from defaults or damage.

“If something happens and the tenant doesn’t pay the rent, the landlord has an opportunity to go back to the caseworker at the agency,” Baxter said.

The tenants get a decent place to live, along with support from the agency that referred them. Some may need ongoing help with monthly rental subsidies, while others may simply need assistance coming up with the damage deposit, Donnelly said.

The homeless foundation and a coalition of local non-profit agencies are part of a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Calgary by 2018.

Since the start of the plan in 2008, the CHF estimates it has found permanent homes for approximately 4,500 people.

A portion of that success has been realized through some existing relationships Calgary landlords have with the city’s non-profit sector.

Rod Williams of Gil Property Management and Sales estimated he has rented units to approximately 100 clients of local agencies in the past five years.

“My comfort level is due to the fact I got fairly familiar with the housing advocates with these agencies,” Williams said.

Only a few tenants didn’t work out, and when that happened, the agencies responded, said Williams.

“If everything had gone to hell, we wouldn’t be doing this,” he said.

Williams added that wealthy tenants who have rented his properties on the open market have also defaulted or caused damage — and in those cases, his company didn’t have the same recourse it has with the non-profit agencies it works with.

“You can’t judge people by their income — or lack thereof,” he said.

Donnelly agreed the non-profit sector and property owners already have a strong relationship, but said the new agreement will hopefully bolster it at a time when the rental market is so tight.

“We really do need a plan,” she said.

In addition to CUPS, the Mustard Seed, Alpha House Calgary, the Calgary John Howard Society, The Alex, Aspen Family and Community Network Society, Keys to Recovery and the Calgary Drop-In Centre are involved in the program.

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