Where can tenants turn when landlords’ negligence or a lack of resources threaten to put them out on the streets?
Speakers at a Housing Action Illinois conference in Bloomington say a partnership between the City of Peoria and The Salvation Army is one example of how communities can work to rehouse residents.
Last year the city deemed a 96-unit apartment building unfit for human habitation. The Salvation Army jumped in to help the city rehouse the 45 displaced residents. The city fined the landlord $50,000, and used the funds as seed money to launch an ongoing rehousing program.
Joe Dulin, assistant community development director for the City of Peoria, said the code enforcement process can sometimes create homelessness, at no fault of the tenant.
“Some of the most common ones are no heat, so the furnace broke, maybe there’s a gas problem, the gas gets shut off, water heaters, no hot water, things like that, those are things that require us to post a property as occupancy prohibited because it’s no longer safe for someone to be in," he said.
Thomas Fulop, Salvation Army Tri-County social services director, said while one of The Salvation Army's main operations is its homeless shelters, “I think this program allows us to skip that step. We get them before they become homeless."
After releasing a request for proposals, the city selected The Salvation Army to administer the program.
The city refers tenants to The Salvation Army, which then deploys its resources to rehouse them as quickly as possible—typically a few days.
Since its inception, the program has overseen five successful rehousing cases, at an average cost of $2,500 per case.
Dulin said the city uses the criminal housing management fines collected from landlords to sustain the program.
“Because the landlord is ultimately the one who caused the situation and caused us to have to get these services going for the tenant, and we want to make sure they’re responsible for repaying it, so that other taxpayers and other residents aren’t responsible for that," he said.
Fulop said without tight restrictions on how the money can be used, the program helps cover everything from application fees to moving expenses that may otherwise prevent rehousing.
Bloomington Housing Authority Executive Director Jeremy Hayes said the issue isn’t unique to Peoria.
“We’ve seen this scenario where an individual is renting and the property owner sells the building, or the property owner loses the building in foreclosure," he said.
Hayes said officials in the City of Bloomington already approach the issue of code enforcement carefully.
“I do know that they are very much aware of the impact of aggressive enforcement, and just looking for compliance, that always seems to be the goal," he said.
Dulin said for communities looking to replicate Peoria’s program, a working relationship between municipalities and nonprofits is a must.
“This wouldn’t have been possible if we just released an RFP (request for proposal) and didn't have nonprofits that trusted the city to deliver on our end or create more problems, and likewise if the city didn’t have a very trusting and positive relationship with The Salvation Army when they bid on a project like this, we’d be nervous. It takes everyone working together regardless of what your mission is to really improve community and improve life for your residents," he said.