Last summer, Mayor Steve Adler issued a challenge to the City of Austin to end homelessness among its U.S. veterans by Veterans Day 2015. The ambitious goal, a direct result of a national initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama, would take a major coordinated effort from the community leadership to succeed. The Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR) answered the call in a big way.
Basing its response to the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness on the best practices of Houston and New Orleans, two cities that had achieved that same goal, a coalition of Austin’s leading business and civic organizations planned a three-step approach: first, identifying veterans in need of housing; second, getting them immediately into temporary hotel and motel housing arrangements and enrolling them in appropriate social services; and, finally, moving them in to permanent housing. “The second step is critical,” explains Andrei Lubomudrov, Policy Analyst in ABoR’s Public Affairs Department. “If you think of a normal rental situation, it takes more than a single day to take care of the lease arrangements, the background checks, the banking requirements, etc. Now, imagine you can’t locate or contact your client from day-to-day, and what a barrier that would be to a successful move. Getting the veterans into safe and stable temporary housing for a week or two is essential to expediting their moves to permanent housing.”
With a $15,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party, ABoR was the sole funding source in facilitating these transitions to longer-term housing arrangements. The ABoR Foundation also provided $5,000 to a fund called Housing for Heroes that would mitigate risk for potential landlords, a contribution that prompted a matching gift from the Austin Apartment Association. ABoR also engaged its many property management members in the effort, and they proved to be an invaluable resource for rental housing stock.
ABoR Chief Executive Officer Paul Hilgers, a member of the Mayor’s Challenge taskforce, says that it’s been a great opportunity for the REALTORS® to demonstrate their leadership in Austin’s business community. “It has been politically meaningful, as well, being involved in an area not typically thought of as ‘REALTOR® territory.’ Our involvement has helped to establish important relationships with civic leaders working to solve the problems of homelessness,” he
notes, adding, “we’re showing that there’s depth to REALTORS® beyond selling real estate, and that REALTORS® care about, and are able to help solve, community challenges.”
Ann Howard, Executive Director of Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), the organization coordinating the direct service work, asserts that, while they are still waiting to hear if federal benchmarks were reached, the system created in response to the Mayor’s Challenge is making sure housing needs are met. “Having the Austin Board of REALTORS® at the table with us was critical to getting the word to property owners and managers that we needed rental housing for veterans experiencing homelessness,” she says. “REALTORS® with access to duplexes and four-plexes brought options to help meet needs of diverse veteran households, and helped secure enough housing to make hundreds of placements possible. With REALTORS® and property managers on the team, Austin has created a supportive housing system that should make veteran homelessness rare and non-recurring.”
Hilgers states that Austin’s REALTORS® should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. He reminds all REALTORS® that no matter how small their town, they have the largest trade association in the community, which means the ability to have major impact in the local area, in addition to being part of the largest trade association in the country.
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Austin have taken a leadership role in helping the city’s veterans access adequate housing, contact Andrei Lubomudrov, Policy Analyst of ABoR’s Public Affairs Department, at 512-454-7636.