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ECHO offers lease incentives to real estate agents for placing homeless tenants

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

Real estate agents in Austin have an incentive to find market-rate homes for those experiencing homelessness, and help one of the city’s main homeless services nonprofits lower the number of people facing housing instability.

Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, known as ECHO, has launched its new Realtor Incentive Program, which offers a sliding scale of incentives for securing market-rate lease agreements for ECHO-referred tenants enrolled in supportive service programs. The incentives begin at $500 and climb to $2,000 for high-volume participants.

Funded through a $500,000 city grant to promote landlord engagement, the program is part of ECHO’s department of community housing.

Paul Mohr, ECHO’s community housing portfolio manager, said the organization hopes to create more relationships with property owners and management companies who are willing to work with the city’s Homelessness Response System and take in tenants with housing subsidies to cover their rent and utilities.

“We’re trying to engage different sectors to see what we can do in the private market a bit more to make more housing available through more leases,” he said. “There’s quite a large rental market, where a lot of times it’s a situation where a property owner has an investment property or a duplex and they want to lease out the unit, (and) they will contact a Realtor to help them find the tenant for that unit.”

As a new program, Mohr said there are no stated goals for how many ECHO referrals are placed using the grant money, though if all $500,000 was used for incentive payments it would likely be replenished based on the program’s success in a tight Austin rental market.

“We haven’t done anything like this before, so we’re going to have to see what kind of units it brings on and what kind of numbers it produces. A lot of that is determined by the rental market, and we’re in a very tight market where the scarcity of units is tough when occupancy units are high,” he said.

“People see a lot of units coming on when leases turn over, but there’s not a lot of units just sitting out there at any one time. The idea is there’s hundreds of individuals experiencing homelessness in Austin who have a rental subsidy and are enrolled in programming that just need a rental unit to use that subsidy in, and we’re looking to bring in as many of those units as possible.”

Outreach and awareness efforts for the incentives are still in the early stages. The Austin Board of Realtors, in an email to the Austin Monitor, said it is still conducting its diligence work on ECHO’s program.

Data on rental rates for single-family homes and condo units in Austin is scattershot, but the average rate for one-bedroom apartments remains over $1,300 per month even as single-family home sales have cooled in recent months.

Mohr said any increase in available units caused by sellers opting to make homes available for rent will be a help for homelessness relief in general.

“​​We’re trying to be innovative in finding housing solutions. Within this market it’s hard enough to find housing, and for someone who is experiencing homelessness it only gets more difficult. We have to get creative with how we approach this issue and this is a new strategy for us,” he said.

“In the past we were more able to convince properties to work with us when they had vacancies. With higher occupancy rates and the demand for housing going up so much it’s become so difficult because there’s no shortage of tenants available, and we need to find new ways to get people into the units that are out there.”

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