Seacoast landlord incentive program to expand to Concord, encouraging landlords to rent to individuals experiencing homelessness

Concord Monitor staff

Advocates for the homeless know of 30 people in Concord who could immediately start paying rent with a housing voucher if they could find an apartment.

Despite having a way to pay, these people are still without a home due to a vacancy rate of less than 1 percent and landlords having the legal right to deny low-income tenants.

A new program in the Concord area, though, could change this. After successfully providing access to housing on the Seacoast, the Affordable Housing Incentive Program will expand to Merrimack County in the new year.

“This is going to be a very, very important program for Concord. I think it will have the greatest effect of anything we can be possibly doing next year,” said Gregory Lessard, the director of housing initiatives for the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness. “If you look at what they accomplished on the Seacoast in a year’s time, if we get even get half the results, it will be the most significant thing that anyone’s done here in Concord yet.”

The program provides incentives for landlords to keep rent at an affordable threshold and accept housing choice vouchers, while also designating units for individuals and families that are experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming unhoused.

These incentives come in the form of monetary rewards – there is a one-time sign-on bonus between $1,500 to $2,500 per unit for landlords who participate in the program. Designated funds are available to cover any damages and a month’s worth of rent is also set aside to hold a unit for up to 30 days to accommodate a tenant’s move.

The program also provides a grant of up to $4,500 for repairs to ensure units pass the Department of Housing and Urban Development inspection. These inspections are prerequisites to using a housing voucher.

A case manager is also assigned for each successful applicant to serve as a support service for both the tenant and landlord.

All of these incentives will provide designated, permanent supportive housing solutions for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Concord area, said Lessard.

“Permanent supportive housing is the absolute key to ending homelessness,” he said. It “puts them on equal footing, to be able to get an apartment by having the landlord participate in the program by dedicating the unit.”

This model of building a partnership between homeless support services and landlords comes from the Home for All Coalition, which includes 40 community stakeholders focused on ending homelessness on the Seacoast.

In 2021, the coalition received money from United Way to establish the Affordable Housing Incentive Program. Since its pilot last year, the program has provided permanent housing for over 150 individuals.

Finding permanent housing for individuals also means opening shelter beds, which are limited in Concord with only 40 available during the winter months.

On the Seacoast, relocating individuals to housing has also opened 64 beds in shelters, according to Kara Rodenhizer, the director of the Home for All Coalition.

Now the program will expand into Concord and Laconia in 2023.

“We hope that AHIP will enhance the work already being done by providing an additional resource to social service agencies to increase access to housing for those who need it the most in Merrimack and Belknap counties,” said Rodenhizer.

This new incentive program will bolster the housing solutions currently offered by the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, according to Lessard.

The coalition currently has its own landlord incentive program – with a $1,000 sign-on bonus offered to landlords and continued case management support offered.

However, it has little success with clients competing directly with the general public for an apartment. With background and credit checks, and no incentive for the landlord to accept a housing choice voucher, the coalition often sees its applicants passed over.

Now, this new program requires landlords to designate a unit to those who are experiencing homelessness. This specification will help the coalition’s clients secure a place to live.

“We put our applications into all of these different multifamily complexes, and we’re just in line with everyone else and our clients lose 99 percent of the time,” said Lessard. “So the difference is we’re not competing now. Our clients are not competing for that unit. They’re not completely competing with the general public.”

The coalition has also taken on the task of creating affordable units themselves. On Green Street and Pleasant Street in Concord, the coalition has redeveloped houses into multifamily units that are rented to people who were formerly experiencing homelessness, to provide a stable housing option.

In the new year, a proposal for a new development on South State Street will go before the City Council.

These projects have created a dozen affordable units for their clients, but they also come at a cost. Lessard estimates that the price per unit is $300,000, alongside year-long construction projects.

This means the landlord incentive program will help create housing solutions for the coalition’s clients at a fraction of the cost and time.

“This is why this is such an opportunity – they can be housed immediately. The landlord already has the units,” he said. “It’s a very low-cost way to provide housing for these individuals.”

Katherine Easterly Martey, Executive Director at Community Development Finance Authority, said the incentive program has provided an innovative approach to the state’s affordable housing challenges.

“The program brings together community-minded landlords and critical service providers in working towards a common goal: supporting those experiencing housing instability in New Hampshire,” she said. “We are excited to see this program expand into new communities across the state and strengthen pathways to housing for Granite Staters.”

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