Landlord Outreach Initiative Launched

PHA Launches Comprehensive Landlord Outreach Initiative

PHA issues call to landlords for feedback, encourages landlords to access state program for pandemic assistance

The Providence Housing Authority is increasing its landlord outreach during the COVID-19 pandemic, to address issues specific to the pandemic as well as get landlord feedback on how to strengthen our Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) program for the long term.  See also “Section 8 COVID Update”.

Safe Harbor Aids Landlords & Tenants

One part of the outreach is to let landlords know of COVID-19 related resources that are available to make landlords whole for lost rent and prevent evictions and voucher terminations for struggling families. Most recently, the Safe Harbor Housing Program was launched.  Administered by the United Way of Rhode Island, the program provides applicants with assistance –– for rent owed since March 1, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Landlords can apply directly to get a payment made on behalf of a tenant.

The pandemic has caused great economic hardship for many families and paying rent – when so many are already cost burdened – has been difficult during this time. And when our City’s small landlords rely on that rental income to survive and pay their own bills, the impact from one nonpayment can quickly trickle downstream.

The Providence Housing Authority (PHA) is the landlord to just over 2600 households in the City of Providence but also administers Section 8 vouchers to another 2700 households renting on the private market. Our program provides direct rent payments to over 1300 landlords across the City and are constantly recruiting new landlords who are willing to accept our vouchers.  The benefit is a steady stream of income not susceptible to pandemics or economic downturns, as the tenant who holds the voucher pays between 30-40% of their income directly to the landlord and the PHA pays the remaining funds via direct deposit to the landlord.  Tenants can adjust their rental payment by reporting changes in income to the PHA and the PHA will adjust its payment to make up the difference.

Landlord Outreach in 2019

Before the COVID pandemic, the PHA began hosting “Conversations with Landlords opening up a new line of communication to landlords in the City that encouraged an exchange of ideas, joint problem solving, and relationship building. Over 80 people attended the sessions over the course of several weeks. They were neighborhood based to help drive a problem solving at neighborhood-level and discussed the basic ins and outs of the Section 8 program to help dispel some of the general myths about the program.  From these meetings, the PHA forged new relationships, identified a handful of new units that would be willing to accept a voucher, and finally, discovered some basic needs for technical assistance as landlords looked to the PHA for help with lease violations and maintenance. “Meeting landlords in the West End, Southside, East Side, and Smith Hill / Wanskuck neighborhoods brought to light different challenges within each neighborhood as well as unexpected allies,” noted Peter Asen, the PHA’s Director of Strategy and Development. He continued, “Often, landlords and neighbors within the community think Section 8 tenants are problematic and do not want them in their neighborhoods. With these conversations, we were able to open up a dialogue about how there is no difference between a voucher holder and someone without a voucher – except that part of each month’s payment comes directly from the PHA, making the tenant more able to afford their rent.”

New Efforts to Support New Voucher Holders & Participants Looking to Move

As this was happening, more research was emerging about the benefits of living in “neighborhoods of opportunity” and that where you live, specifically your zip code, determines outcomes later in life impacting your earnings and even health. HUD began publishing case studies of landlord engagement to assist voucher holders to move into these high value neighborhoods. Seeing this and always striving to be a best-in-class leader, the PHA applied to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) to pilot a project that would allow the PHA to assist tenants with gaining access to vouchers and moving into neighborhoods of opportunity with the primary theory that by engaging landlords, we would be more likely to access units within those desired zip codes. The PHA joined the BCBSRI Blue Angel 2019 cohort and quickly began adapting its early plans to fit the new realities of COVID. In doing so, it accelerated much of the work laid out in the pilot program.  Voucher holders began receiving well-being calls and check-ins more often from PHA staff and the organization began planning to marry new programming providing financial assistance to landlords, such as the Safe Harbor program, with technical assistance and other incentives to engage with the PHA more regularly – even if it doesn’t result in leasing to a PHA voucher holder right away.

Providing Feedback

This effort is just unfolding and true to their values, the PHA is seeking input from landlords on the topics they would like to learn more about.  “While we have common questions asked of our team by landlords, we don’t know it all.  It was very important to us to ask landlords in the City to see if there are topics and needs, we hadn’t thought of or areas where we can add value,” noted Vanessa Galarza, Associate Director of Leased Housing for the PHA. Landlord outreach is critical to understanding how and where the PHA and our programs fit in the market. Landlords with units in Providence can take the survey online at by 5pm on August 12th to be eligible to win a $100 gift card.  Once they have received all the responses, the organization plans to unveil a series of virtual meetings and help sessions for landlords as well as other incentives to those who lease rental units to PHA voucher holders in the upcoming year.

“We received a lot of great feedback from voucher holders about our response to COVID and are excited to extend our efforts into the landlord community,” says PHA Leased Housing Director Donna De La Rosa. “COVID has made us rethink our program delivery model and how we do business. We consider ourselves very lucky to have access to BCBSRI funding, the Safe Harbor program, and many other resources right now that will allow us to help both our voucher holders and landlords – who are small business owners that often get left behind in these types of programs. Together we can support one another and build a stronger housing community that will outlast this pandemic.”

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