Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Landlords who care

Homelessness is an issue I face on an almost weekly (sometimes daily) basis. Around 10% of my young charges are homeless at some point during their time with me in Kick Start. I also meet a large number of people of all ages who face the struggles of homelessness on a regular basis.

One of the big issues in my region is a chronic shortage of housing - market rent is at a phenomenal high with the promise of another 5% increase in the next month making it even harder for many first time renters to get into the rental market. Minimum rent is now around the $220/week mark with youth benefits sitting at around $300/fortnight.

Most strugglers, particularly those under 25, don't often even get as far as the application. I visited real estate agents with an 18 year old client late last year and witnessed him being laughed at by property managers who were happy to take his application fee while telling him it was unlikely he would be successful in any application because of his age and lack of "rental history".

As a result quite a significant number of young people are couch surfing - putting a strain on friendships. Others, including whole families, are living in cars, sheds, or just sleeping rough. Emergency accommodation is at breaking point. Services which offer clients accommodation for a strict time period of 3 months are finding they are seeing clients remain in their accommodation for more than 6 months because there is simply nowhere for them to go. Real estate agents have pages of names of waitinglists, making it easy for landlords to simply pick the most desirable tentants every time.

Hostels and back-packers are refusing to take clients from local community service providers because of the large numbers needing a room and the "undesirability" of the clientele. A problem which can be gotten round by lying (something I have done several times now when booking short term accommodation for clients) - simply answering "no, the booking is for me" when asked if it is an agency booking (begs the question "when is it ok to lie?").

Around 6 months ago I was approached by a couple who own an investment property and had heard me talk about the housing shortage. They have a duplex they would like to see used as affordable housing - helping at least a few people to get a roof over their heads. Last week a second couple with an investment property approached me with the same offer.

Over the weekend I was thinking about this. The first couple asked me if I would manage the property for them. I really didn't think this was something I wanted to take on, but it got me thinking about a way of making this work.

I decided to go see a good friend of mine who also happens to be a real estate agent and property manager. He is sympathetic to the cause and has helped me to find accommodation in the past for what would otherwise have been some pretty hopeless cases - sticking his neck on the line in the process.

He was really receptive to the idea of managing properties for landlords who are prepared to be flexible in their lease agreements and are willing to take a less-than-market rent in order to put a roof over someones head. He is also prepared to take on these kind of properties at cost price. While we still have to work out the finer details, I think that we might actually be on to something here.

I am looking at running this through our missional community plant - we have a range of community service workers who are a part of what we are doing - including a guy who works with State Housing tenants who are falling behind in their rent or upkeep of homes (I was going to get around to talking to you about it Shane!!!).

While we might not be able to help everyone, it at least it looks like we might be able to relieve the pressure for some. If you are reading this and have an investment property in the Bunbury area and would like to join in, please let me know. Let your investor friends know also.

Thank God for landlords who care!

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