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ECHO offers lease incentives to real estate agents for placing homeless tenants

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Wednesday November 23, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

Real estate agents in Austin have an incentive to find market-rate homes for those experiencing homelessness, helping one of the city’s premier homeless services nonprofits lower the number of people facing housing instability.

Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, known as ECHO, has launched its new Realtor Incentive Program, which offers a sliding scale of incentives for obtaining market-rate leases for ECHO-referred tenants enrolled in supportive service programs. The incentives start at $500 and climb to $2,000 for high-volume participants.

Funded by a $500,000 city grant to promote landlord engagement, the program is part of ECHO’s Department of Community Housing.

Paul Mohr, ECHO’s community housing portfolio manager, said the organization hopes to create more relationships with property owners and management companies willing to work with the city’s Homelessness Response System and take in tenants with housing subsidies to cover their rent and utilities.

“We are trying to involve different sectors to see what we can do in the private market a little more to make more housing available through more leases,” he said. “There’s quite a big rental market, where a lot of times it’s a situation where a property owner has an investment property or a duplex and they want to rent out the unit, (and) they’ll contact a broker to help them get find the tenant. for that unit.”

As a new program, Mohr said there are no set goals for how many ECHO referrals are placed using the grant money, though if all $500,000 is used for incentive payments, it will likely be topped up based on the program’s success in a tight Austin rental market.

“We’ve never done anything like this before, so we’ll have to see what kind of units it yields and what kind of numbers it yields. A lot of that is determined by the rental market, and we’re in a very tight market where the scarcity of units is difficult when occupancy units are high,” he said.

“People see a lot of units coming in when leases turn over, but there aren’t a lot of units just sitting out there at any given time. The idea is that there are hundreds of individuals experiencing homelessness in Austin who have a rental subsidy and are enrolled in programming that just needs a rental unit to tap into that subsidy, and we’re looking to get as many of those as possible. to bring in units.”

Outreach and awareness efforts for the incentives are still in the early stages. The Austin Board of Realtors, in an email to the Austin Monitor, said he is still doing his due diligence on ECHO’s programme.

Data on rental rates for single-family homes and apartment units in Austin is scattered, but the average rate for one-bedroom apartments remains more than $1,300 a month, even as single-family home sales have cooled in recent months.

Mohr said any increase in available units caused by sellers choosing to make homes available for rent would be an aid to alleviating homelessness in general.

“​We try to be innovative in finding housing solutions. Within this market, finding housing is hard enough, and for someone experiencing homelessness, it only gets harder. We have to get creative with how we approach this issue and this is a new strategy for us,” he said.

“In the past, we were more able to convince properties to work with us when they had vacancies. With higher occupancy rates and the demand for housing increasing so much, it has become so difficult because there is no shortage of tenants available, and we have to find new ways to get people into the units that are there.”

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