Sunday, December 13, 2009

Denying a Rental Request -- What Next?

I've previously discussed how my department determines eligibility for rental assistance in its basic terms. We find out why the client(s) got behind and if they have income to sustain themselves should we assist with one month's rent. If the clients don't have an income we can't help them. The reason is that assistance in this case would only be temporary and the client would face the same problem of paying rent the following month.

So what's the next step for these clients? Generally when folks have no income we refer them to our job counseling services. But of course it's not typically a smooth path and not only because job supply is particularly low. Clients may lack experience or skills for many jobs. Referring folks to job counseling also presumes that they're physically and/or mentally able to work and this is not the case for many people we serve in my department. Applying for social security benefits (for reason of disability) is an option but one that in most cases takes at least a year or more.

So let's say a client has no income and is looking for work but not finding one, or applying for disability and waiting. What then? The bottom line is you need an income to stay in an apartment. When we can't help we refer folks to call the city and request short term rental assistance. But the truth is very few organizations have funds to help people with rental assistance when they have no income.

So we suggest people look at their social network. Is there a family member or friend they can stay with temporarily? We also give information on shelters and temporary housing programs (some have waiting lists so clients need to sign up as soon as they can). Occasionally we get word of openings for permanent housing programs for people at risk for/those experiencing homelessness. In such cases it may help to be tied in with an organization that would likely get news when such openings take place.

Sometimes when I tell clients we're not going to be able to help with rental assistance I don't hear from them again even when I offer to continue to work on other options. Some folks who are denied rental assistance come back a year later with new concerns -- they had solved their housing situation on their own. Other times I don't hear back from clients once their in temporary housing. I respect people's choice to figure things out on their own and appreciate the opportunity to be able to work with folks who choose to continue and work with me. I believe that if I was in a similar situation I'd want another person on my side. But I also know the limits of a case manager's role. In the end the client is the one dealing with what's going on. Whether I'm part of her journey is up to her.

How have you as a case manager/social worker dealt with a similar situation?

Note: This post was written based on my personal experiences as a case manager and should not be taken as the rule for every similar case.


Pittsburgh Perambulations said...

I don't know. As someone who's been in this field, it's easy to wish I had all the answers and knew of a brilliant plan to fix poverty, employment, housing, and hunger issues. But I don't... and I can only work in the existing system. I wish there was some sort of housing program that traded housing for a non-monetary rent. Like, exchange work skills in the community for housing. Or a city program of housing so long as it was evidenced that things were being done to find a job/ go to school/ apply for disability. There was to be some better plan, but I realize it spills into other issues and touches other concerns far greater than just giving someone a house...

Anatolia said...

Some housing programs like that (work for rent / housing program where you live while showing proof you're searching for work) do exist in the city where I work but naturally supply is much shorter than demand.

Like you're saying, our challenge is to navigate the current system.

We have a worker who's great at staying connected with housing locators who let him know when openings take place and these relationships help a lot in keeping us updated.

Btrflygl said...

It's tough. The program I work for provides a housing subsidy to the population we work with. However, due to funding cuts, the requirements have changed now and rules are much stricter in getting this subsidy. Clients don't want to hear this. It's especially hard because clients who DO have resources (i.e. family they can stay with, access to monetary resources) are the ones who tend to challenge me the most about this issue.

I also have clients who I am not able to help because of the lack of income and access to the housing subsidy. I can get them on wait lists and such, but there really are not a lot of resources out there.

Anatolia said...

Btrflygl, it's interesting that you find clients who have more resources to be those who are more demanding. I don't believe I see this distinction in my clients but most clients I see have very few additional resources (like family).

I'm also familiar with the challenge of long waiting lists (in other programs, as my agency itself doesn't offer housing). So when I meet with a client who's interested in subsidized housing for example, our goal is to sign him up for as many appropriate programs/locations as possible.