Do you support refugees and newcomers with affordable housing services? This blog post is for you! Switchboard has partnered with Refugee Housing Solutions to share training and promising practices related to housing solutions for newcomers. The tips in this post will get you started in forming positive landlord relationships to help secure housing for clients. This post includes contributions from Matthew Chase, Alaska State Refugee Housing Manager with Catholic Social Services.
1. Seek Out Welcoming Landlords and Property Owners
Sometimes the toughest part of the housing process is knowing where to meet landlords and property owners who are interested in renting to newcomers. To get started, here are some ideas adapted from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guide Tips for Working with Landlords:
- Connect with local landlord organizations or rental housing associations. Ask if you can make a short presentation on your program at an upcoming meeting. Be sure to bring brochures or other marketing materials to leave behind. You may also want to partner with a former client to share about the impact that your housing program has had on them.
- Establish landlord “champions” for housing advocacy and outreach. You can use landlord “champions” to discuss landlords’ fears about accepting your clients and what it would take to change their minds, as well as ideas to recruit new landlord partners. As landlords become more familiar with your organization, they may also be willing to help promote your program, introduce you to other landlords, or serve as references.
- Target “medium-sized” landlords. Landlords who own multiple units may be more willing to take on potential partnerships (and more tolerant of potential risks) than smaller landlords. Conversely, very large property management firms often have so many units that they can more easily absorb the cost of vacancies, meaning that they may be less interested in housing partnerships. Large firms also typically have strict screening policies, and the individuals who work in the rental offices may have less autonomy to make case-by-case decisions.
- The Importance of Engaging and Building Partnerships with Landlords & Property Managers: This webinar provides a range of outreach ideas.
- Landlord Marketing Letter: This marketing letter can be used to advertise your program to landlords in your community.
2. Show You Understand and Care about the Landlord’s World
When you first connect with a landlord, focus on building a trusting, two-way relationship. This means getting to know them on both a personal and professional level. If a landlord perceives that you do not understand them, they may feel that your partnership poses a risk. For example, Catholic Social Services in Alaska notes that their greatest improvement in relationship building has been a shift toward “understanding the challenges that landlords experience.”
One way to start building rapport is by arranging a landlord interview. Your questions will vary based on location, local context, and type of property, but they might include:
- Motives: How did you get into real estate? What inspired you?
- Challenges: What current challenges are you tackling?
- Expertise: How long have you owned this property? Do you have prior experience renting to refugees or other newcomers?
- Processes: How are repairs handled? How do you respond to tenant/property issues?
As you learn about the context and concerns that affect landlords, bring these topics up during your conversations. Avoid resettlement jargon. Instead, try to use similar terms to the ones the landlord uses. Throughout your communication, be secure and confident in your expertise. Landlords appreciate professionalism. You will continue to build your credibility by engaging in clear, consistent communication over time.
3. Be Prepared to Address Concerns
Landlords and property managers will likely raise questions and concerns about entering a new housing partnership, particularly those with limited experience renting to newcomers. Listen actively and do not dismiss or minimize their concerns. Instead, position yourself as a helpful partner in problem solving. Consider the following talking points:
- Refugees are some of the most vetted people in the United States. They go through extensive interviewing, fingerprinting, and background checks prior to arriving in the U.S.
- Refugees receive Social Security cards and photo identification soon after arrival. They are in this country legally and are authorized to work.
- Newcomers receive case management services, employment support, and financial assistance through local resettlement agencies and community partners. Describe the specific support and services that your agency provides.
- Newcomers are typically seeking stability and are often long-term tenants.
You should also gain familiarity with tenant laws that apply to your clients. For example, in Alaska, a landlord cannot create any lease terms that would otherwise require a judgment secured in court. Awareness of this law recently enabled Catholic Social Services to intervene on a client’s behalf, negotiate an equitable legal solution, and reconcile the situation while still maintaining a positive relationship with the landlord. Familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act along with your state and municipal housing laws via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website.
In the longer term, build a two-way channel for landlords and property managers to discuss needs and concerns on an ongoing basis. Check in proactively and respond swiftly to any issues that may arise. Work closely with cultural orientation and case management service providers to ensure clients understand their housing rights and responsibilities, which will help prevent issues in the first place. As mentioned in HUD’s Tips for Working with Landlords, “One problem tenant—or one instance where you do not follow up as promised—will probably discourage a landlord from working with your program again.”
- Landlord Benefits Checklist: This checklist outlines the benefits landlords receive from working with a housing search program.
- Fair Housing Training for Landlords and Property Managers: This training provides information on HOPE Fair Housing and its programs, the Fair Housing Act, the responsibilities landlords have to further fair housing, scenarios landlords may encounter while in their roles, and more.
4. Log New Landlord Connections in a Central List
After your initial contact or interview with a landlord or property owner, it’s important to track what you’ve learned in a central place and to update it over time. This database can be an Excel spreadsheet with a column for each relevant and helpful piece of information. For example:
- First and last name of landlord, or the company/organization name
- Contact information (e.g., phone number, email address, and mailing address)
- Number of units under ownership
- Rental property zip code(s)
Your list can be an invaluable source of information if it is updated and maintained regularly. For example, you can reach out to your existing landlord network to find out how soon a property will be available before it is publicly listed for rent. You can request that the landlords on your list proactively alert you to available properties before listing. You can use your list as a central repository of potential references, invitees for outreach events or trainings, newsletter subscribers (with permission), and more.
- Landlord Information Template. Use this form to collect information about landlords in your community as well as the types of housing that are available.
- Community Resource Mapping Templates: This document includes the following templates: Pre-Planning, Planning, Information Gathering, Analysis, Monitoring, and Sharing.
To learn more about the work of Catholic Social Services in Anchorage, Alaska, visit their website. Connect with Refugee Housing Solutions (RHS) to learn about how RHS subject matter experts can provide assistance to help house refugees in your community. Click here to schedule a 1:1 technical assistance session.