Homeless Veterans Face Challenges Beyond The Rental Check Thousands of homeless military vets have government vouchers for rent. But landlords aren't always willing to accept them, partly because of tight housing markets and stereotypes about the tenants.
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Homeless Veterans Face Challenges Beyond The Rental Check

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Homeless Veterans Face Challenges Beyond The Rental Check

Homeless Veterans Face Challenges Beyond The Rental Check

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The Obama administration says it wants to end homelessness among veterans by the end of this year. Well, that is not going to happen. One reason - landlords are reluctant to rent to homeless individuals, even when the rent is guaranteed. NPR's Pam Fessler has more.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: At the end of October, almost 6,200 homeless veterans had government vouchers to cover their rent, but they'd yet to find landlords willing to accept them. One of those vets is Joseph Coles of Washington, D.C., where you're lucky to get a one-bedroom apartment for under $1,400 a month.

JOSEPH COLES: At one time, you could get an apartment anywhere for nothing. Now, with so many people moving in the area, we're at the mercy of the landlord and apartment complexes. They can choose who they want and who they don't want.

FESSLER: So Coles, who's been searching since September, has yet to find a place. He's in temporary transitional housing now, but doesn't know what he'll do if an apartment doesn't come through soon.

COLES: I shudder to think about that.

FESSLER: The problem is popping up everywhere, but especially in tight rental markets like Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Miami, government vouchers cover $900 a month in rent for a one-bedroom apartment, but those are hard to find.

RON BOOK: We're out there begging, pleading and doing whatever is necessary to persuade landlords to participate in our program.

FESSLER: Ron Book is chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, which is trying to place 200 homeless vets by year's end. Earlier this month, the trust held a telethon with a local TV station which produced dozens of promising leads. Books says they're fighting not only a tight rental market, but stereotypes.

BOOK: Quite candidly, look, there's always going to be some hesitancy by landlords to house somebody that they perceive having lived on the streets.

FESSLER: So part of his appeal has been to make sure that landlords know that their new tenants have been screened and, once housed, they'll get the support they need, like mental health services and job counseling. Still, Eric Grumdahl, who is coordinating Minnesota's effort to end veterans homelessness, knows that landlords are being asked to take a leap of faith. His state recently decided to offer property owners a $1,000 signing bonus for each vet that they house by the end of January.

ERIC GRUMDAHL: To recognize that we are asking landlords to affirmatively choose to house veterans who, frankly, in this market, would be very easy to screen out. There are often, you know, veterans that are facing challenges that may have to do with the fact that they have a poor rental history or very little rental history.

FESSLER: And it's not just veterans. Washington, D.C., is trying to house 700 homeless families and another 1,000 individuals. The city just hired a team of navigators to work with landlords, but it can be a tough sell. Navigator LaShun Lawson recently tried to finalize a deal with property manager Oswald Durant. He wants to help and has six units available, but needs some reassurance.

OSWALD DURANT: Well, that would be important if we could be assured that the inspectors are coming, you know, because everyone wants it quick. You want it quickly. We want it quickly. We definitely don't want to go over 30 days.

FESSLER: The city has agreed to advance Durant $1,000 for each apartment that he holds open while the city works to place a family. That's attractive. But like other landlords, Durant's also worried about getting mired in bureaucracy or having to do with a problem tenant on his own.

DURANT: So who is it that comes to visit the client in their house every four month, the caseworker?

LASHUN LAWSON: The caseworker.

DURANT: So can't we know about that, or you'll just tell us the results?

LAWSON: If I know - if I know that it's happening...

FESSLER: Eventually, Durant agrees, but on a trial basis.

DURANT: We'll see how it works out. That's the point. We'll work with it together.

LAWSON: We can reassess it. Let's reassess it. That makes sense.

FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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