A mayoral initiative which aims to provide permanent housing to homeless individuals and families by providing them with financial support and incentivizing landlords through offering a guaranteed fund of up to $10,000 in the event that any losses are incurred.
Problems and Purpose
The number of chronically homeless people in Boston increased in 2014 and 2015 following a six-year period of decline. Homelessness has long been recognized to be barrier to the representation of poor and vulberable constitutencies by municipal governments. Homelessness also affects people's ability to participate in the political process, and to access essential community services. In response to these challenges, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh began Boston’s Way Home, a multifaceted plan intended to end veteran and chronic homelessness in Boston by 2018.
The City of Boston was making significant progress and had ended chronic veteran homelessness by January 2016 with the exception of a few people who refused housing, but there were still barriers to ending all homelessness. This is primarily because the opioid crisis perpetuates homelessness and many homeless people migrate to Boston because of the services offered to help them. The city also found it more challenging to find homes for non-veterans than veterans who had been homeless and wanted to change this dynamic. As a result, Boston’s Way Home wasn’t as effective as needed which led to the creation of the Landlord Guarantee Pilot Program. This program matches individuals and families in need of homes with landlords who have agreed to house them. In exchange, landlords are guaranteed a reimbursement of up to $10,000 in the event that some losses are incurred such as unpaid back rent, damages, legal fees or insurance deductibles. This guarantee gives residents of Boston additional incentive to help end chronic homelessness in Boston. In so doing, the initiative promotes the aims of the “Right to the City” movement based on the belief that everyone should have equal access to participation in urban areas.
Background History and Context
In October 2014, the city of Boston consulted with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for an inspection of the Long Island Bridge. The 63-year-old structure was deemed unsafe and subsequently shut down. As the only access point to the Boston Harbor island, the bridge was vital for the long island community such that after its closing, the city was forced to close its largest homeless shelter, largest detox center and many other social programs tasked with aiding the city’s homeless population. The closing of the Long Island Homeless Shelter displaced many, necessitating government action to remedy the situation. Eight months later, Mayor Walsh launched a comprehensive action plan titles Boston’s Way Home the same year to combat veteran and chronic homelessness. As a continuation of this plan, the Landlord Guarantee Pilot Program began on October 12, 2017 to further the city’s efforts in combating homelessness.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Office of Housing Stability (OHS) is a department within the city government of Boston that is in charge of helping tenants in housing crises, providing information to tenants and landlords, generating programs and resources related to housing and advocacy/policy aimed at preventing displacement. It is in charge of managing the Landlord Guarantee Program Pilot and receives funding from the city government.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Any landlord with an available unit in the Boston area can and is encouraged to opt into this program. Based on their available space, their landlord partner, an official within the Office of Housing Stability will then match the landlord with three potential tenants of which the landlord chooses one.
Prospective tenants consist of individuals and families that are homeless and actively seeking housing.
Methods and Tools Used
The initiative, while government initiated, was not a novel idea but instead based on a model being adopted nationwide called “Housing First.” This model focuses on removing the programmatic prerequisites or preconditions, such as sobriety or completion of treatment programs, that are often included in approaches to combat homelessness. In addition, the model also emphasizes the importance of having low barriers to eligibility for assistance such that an individual’s income, rental and criminal history are not excessively considered as reasons to deny them housing. The application and approval process are also streamlined to provide permanent housing as fast as possible.
The Housing First model is applicable to different types of housing initiatives and therefore extensive changes did not need to be made to adapt the model to the Landlord Guarantee Pilot Program. However, the model doesn’t proscribe a set of guidelines for interacting with landlords so, in this regard, the initiative’s inclusion of a $10,000 guaranteed reimbursement for any incurred losses and a landlord partner from OHS to oversee the tenancy were both additions to the model. However, this concept of a guarantee fund has previously been used in programs in other cities such as Seattle, Portland and Denver. Considering the high demand for housing in Boston, the fund was likely necessary in order to give landlords incentive to participate as opposed to leasing to other tenants who weren’t homeless. In so doing, homeless individuals’ “Right to the City” of Boston is recognized and supported.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
After a landlord has opted into the program and signed the participation agreement that specifies all terms, a landlord partner looks over information about their available unit and finds three prospective tenants. Then, the landlord chooses to lease to one of the three tenants and a nonprofit organization comes to inspect the home to make sure it is safe and habitable. Next, the landlord and tenant execute either a normal lease or sign a housing Assistance Payment agreement with a local non-profit. During the tenancy, households receive either federal or state housing assistance and for at least six months have a case manager to assist them in being a successful renter.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Though a formal report on the impacts of this initiative has not been published by the mayor’s office, the permanent housing of homeless individuals represents steps taken to advance “right to the city” ideology. Essentially, its mission is to end de facto segregation of urban communities whether it be based on race, income or another factor. Right to the City focuses on removing the obstacles that perpetuate urban discrimination against marginalized groups by promoting initiatives in urban justice, human rights, racial justice and democracy.  The Landlord Guarantee Pilot Program could be understood as one of said initiatives as it aims to give homeless individuals an opportunity to live somewhere they otherwise may not have been able to afford.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Due to the lack of extensive information on the results of this initiatives, assessing its success is not possible at this time. However, the housing first model used in this initiative could also be applied to other areas. For instance, its focus on removing the preconditions and prerequisites to participation in programs is a concept applicable to many initiatives in social welfare.
 “Mayor Walsh Launches Landlord Guarantee Program to Encourage Renting to Homeless." Sampan.Org. October 12, 2017. http://sampan.org/2017/10/mayor-walsh-launches-landlord-guarantee-program-to-encourage-renting-to-homeless/.
 Jolicoeur, Lynn. “Boston Continues To Make Progress In Ending Chronic Homelessness, But There Are Barriers.” Wbur.org. October 5, 2016. http://www.wbur.org/news/2016/10/05/chronic-homelessness-boston.
 "New Boston Initiative Encourages Landlords To Rent To People Who Are Homeless.” October 11, 2017. Wbur.org. http://www.wbur.org/news/2017/10/11/boston-homeless-rental-landlord
 "Landlord Guarantee Pilot Program." Boston.Gov. 2017. https://www.boston.gov/landlord-guarantee-pilot-program#program-information.
 “Homelessness In Boston, 1 Year After Losing The Long Island Shelter”
 "Office of Housing Stability.” April 5, 2018. Boston.Gov. https://www.boston.gov/departments/ neighborhood-development/office-housing-stability#programs
 "New Boston Initiative Encourages Landlords To Rent To People Who Are Homeless.” Wbur.org. October 11, 2017. http://www.wbur.org/news/2017/10/11/boston-homeless-rental-landlord
 “Housing-First-Permanent-Supportive-Housing-Brief.Pdf,” accessed May 3, 2018, https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/Housing-First-Permanent-Supportive-Housing-Brief.pdf.
 Valencia, Milton J. “City Offers Incentives to Encourage Landlords to Accept Homeless Tenants.” Boston Globe. October 11, 2017. Wbur.org. October 8, 2015. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/10/10/city-offers-incentives-encourage-landlords-accept-homeless-tenants/QGuVD9H79vqPrlejIK74XI/story.html?utm_source=Innovators+ Insights+Newsletter&utm_campaign=585f45129c-Newsletter_2017_11_30&utm_medium= email&utm_term=0_171b83f6b5-585f45129c-353509537.
 “Right to the City » Mission & History,” Right to the City Alliance, https://righttothecity.org/about/mission-history/.
Lead image: John Wilcox/Boston Herald https://goo.gl/Kaei6i
Secondar image: Boston.gov https://goo.gl/SHj96F