Roommates, Housing First, Landlord Engagement: Three Things We Learned From Maryland’s Housing Challenge

This post is part of an Alliance blog series highlighting the Rapid Re-housing Learning Collaboratives in Georgia and Maryland. Read more about Learning Collaboratives here.

For the past 11 months, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has been working with twenty-eight rapid re-housing providers in the state of Maryland to ramp up their outcomes. In Learning Collaboratives facilitated by the Alliance in partnership with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, providers learned how to build organizational capacity, implement strategic changes, and set strategic goals to:

  • Move more people from homelessness to permanent housing
  • Reduce the average length of time households are homelessness
  • Implement rapid re-housing that serves individuals with high barriers to housing

By coming together to discuss their common challenges and strategies, providers can transform their practices. Their new knowledge was then immediately put to the test in the #MDHousingChallenge, a 100-day period where providers are challenged to house more people than they ever have.

Here’s what they’ve learned:

Facilitating Roommate Pairing and Shared Housing Helps Serve More People

Shared housing is a method of reducing housing costs by assisting households in finding other households to enter the rental market with as roommates. Typically, in a roommate arrangement, households have one landlord, two separate lease agreements and bedrooms, and a roommate agreement.

Valerie Nwakudo of Delmarva Community Services uses shared housing to house more people in her community. She admits it takes more work on the front end but that it results in more people exiting homelessness to stable and affordable housing situations.

Valerie begins the process by going to the local emergency shelter every evening and talking with residents to understand who gets along and may live together well. She discusses the opportunities and risks of living with a roommate with each person individually and then together. Then she works with both households to find housing.

Valerie says that with this model, Delmarva Community Services spends the same amount of money to house two households as they previously did to house one. When two households live together, costs are lower, burdens are shared, and long-term outcomes improve.

Employing Housing First Principles Helps Serve the Most Vulnerable

Valerie shared that another “aha moment” happened when she realized that with changed mindsets and operations, she could serve a more vulnerable population. Using Housing First principles, the idea that people are able to stabilize their income and improve their quality of life once they have stable housing, Delmarva Community Services now houses people without income and higher housing barriers. They have seen that other processes like employment and disability applications are easier to navigate once a person has a stable place to live. Just because they don’t have income now, Valerie says, doesn’t mean that they won’t have income in one to three months from now and that they won’t be able to sustain their housing.

Through the Learning Collaborative, Valerie reports that she was encouraged to focus on the unsheltered population experiencing chronic homelessness, the people with the highest needs. Now, with the tools she gained from the Collaborative, she can help them find and sustain housing.

Another provider, Washington County Community Action Council (CAC), echoed Valerie’s insight. Because of what they learned in the Collaborative, they are now serving a more vulnerable population as well. Donna Rose, Katheryn Buchanan, and Evonne Nichols from the Washington County CAC emphasized the importance of understanding and using the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness to serve those who are literally homeless. The staff says that there have been many small details that they have had to navigate, but now that they are filling their prescribed role, they are serving those who need the assistance the most.

Landlord Engagement is Key to Finding Housing

By targeting services to the most vulnerable, providers are more likely to work with clients who face barriers to housing like prior evictions or low income. These barriers can cause hesitation among landlords. However, case managers have found that once they show landlords that clients have a plan for increasing their income and have case management services, landlords are increasingly willing to work with the program.

Because of a shared belief in Housing First principles, staff from the Washington County CAC and their partner landlords have been able to house people who were previously unable to secure housing. The Washington County CAC reports that once a landlord sees the power of housing stabilization, they are excited to continue developing their relationship with the rapid re-housing program.

Valerie from Delmarva Community Services echoed the idea that once landlords understand that the case management services provided will help their new tenant stabilize and thrive in housing, they are increasingly excited to house more households through rapid re-housing. By proactively building a collaborative relationship with the landlord community, providers can attract more properties to their programs.

Moving Forward

Providers in the Rapid Re-housing Learning Collaborative from across the state of Maryland have been working for months to improve their practices to reach their goals of housing more people than ever before. At the same time, they are serving a more vulnerable population with the strategies learned through the training, technical assistance, and peer support in the Rapid Re-housing Learning Collaborative. These providers are dedicated to reducing homelessness in their communities during the #MDHousingChallenge and beyond.