Non-profit groups helping tenants find homes in the Yukon By David Gargaro
Finding affordable housing for people with mental health conditions or on social assistance is a challenge during the best of times. Trying to do so during a pandemic makes it even more difficult. Homelessness is a growing problem for people with mental health conditions, and the current situation has made it even more prevalent. The shortage of affordable housing combined with the increase in poverty has led to a rise in homelessness in many municipalities. Government disability support services provide vulnerable people with financial support for housing. However, they also need help with finding a place to live, which can be difficult for people with a mental health condition. One such program is called Landlords Working to End Homelessness (LWEH), which helps to find rental housing for vulnerable people living in Whitehorse. This initiative was founded in 2013 by Blood Ties Four Directions, whose mission it is to “eliminate barriers and create opportunities to have equal access to health & wellness and to live in our community with dignity.” The non-profit group (NPG) rents the unit from the landlord and supports the tenant as required. In exchange, the tenant pays rent to Blood Ties Four Directions. The LWEH program helps vulnerable people to find a safe and affordable place to live. It also helps rental property owners to maintain stable tenancies with people who need housing. Under the program, the NPG leases the unit from the rental property owner, becoming the effective tenant, and assumes all responsibility for paying the rent on time, avoiding and repairing damage to the unit, being a good tenant, and providing notice upon termination of tenancy. The
32 | October 2020
NPG’s client sublets the unit and receives ongoing support from the NPG to make sure they are housed successfully. The LWEH program helps to provide access to rental housing where tenants would not have been considered. Even when a prospective tenant has the funds to pay for rent, the fact that they are on social assistance often limits their housing options. Having an NPG on a tenant’s side to handle communications and conflict can help to make rental property owners more comfortable with providing the rental. Being able to deal with a professional group that will manage communications and solve issues with tenants will encourage more rental property owners to get involved in the program and provide more units for rent. Other NPGs in the Yukon that work with the homeless population and vulnerable groups have joined the LWEH program to help people who come to them for assistance with finding rental housing. The Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre contacts rental property owners to offer a responsible tenant to fill available units. Staff at the centre promise to keep an eye on the tenant to ensure that they don’t damage the unit. To participate in the LWEH program, tenants must agree to
receive weekly visits, which allows centre staff to stay on top of issues and see how their client is doing with counselling, work, school, and other issues. Staff at the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre also handle communication between the property owner and tenant. This includes mediating conflicts, helping to prevent evictions, and handling repairs to damage caused by the tenant. The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society Yukon (FASSY) has managed a number of rental units and housed about 20 tenants over the past two years. Although this NPG has faced challenges, primarily from damage to the units, it has found value in the LWEH program. FASSY’s staff is trained to deal with people who have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Syndrome (FASD), who require support but not constant, around-the-clock care. The NPG takes care of communication with tenants, and checks in with them regularly to make sure that they are paying their rent. They also deal with issues that come up with other tenants, as their clients don’t always have the requisite social skills to handle conflict with other people.
Blood Ties Four Directions leadership considers the LWEH a success, as it has provided clients with a chance to find a home. Some tenants have been in their rental properties for more than three years. Beyond the challenge of getting rental property owners to accept their clients, the NPG has found it difficult to locate affordable properties in Whitehorse. Under the LWEH model, tenants must pay their own rent – there is no rent subsidy from the government. Many rental units available in the Whitehorse market cost more to rent than what tenants are getting in social assistance. The LWEH program has been running for seven years, and has continued to generate interest from other NPGs and rental property owners. Expanding this type of program across the country would help to reduce homelessness among vulnerable people and help rental property owners to fill vacant units with paying tenants.
rentalhousingbusiness.ca | 33
RHB, RHB Magazine, Affordable Housing, Housing, Yukon