Landlords asked to help solve homelessness through new Maricopa County initiative

(Video by Julio Mora Rodriguez/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The number of people experiencing homelessness is rising in Maricopa County, and with it the need for affordable housing. Enter Threshold, which intends to change the housing dynamic by inviting landlords to be part of the solution.

Threshold is a centralized network of resources to support property managers so they can provide more people with affordable housing. It’s operated by HOM Inc., an Arizona company working with nonprofits throughout the state to combat homelessness. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is funding Threshold through federal COVID-19 relief funds and general funds.

The Threshold initiative was launched June 1 at a news conference at the Arizona Multihousing Association, where county Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates called the collaboration with HOM unique because it brings property owners into the conversation, providing incentives to house low-income families and people experiencing homelessness.

Threshold came together after years of collaboration between government and property owners to make more rental homes are available to more people. (Photo by Julio Mora Rodriguez/Cronkite News)

Incentives include paying property owners 1.5 times the monthly rent as a signing bonus if they lower their screening criteria, which allow property managers to check a tenant’s identity, rental history, credit history and criminal history. Proponents say lowering those criteria will allow more people and families to gain access to affordable housing. The program also provides financial support to property owners for unpaid rent and any damages done by tenants.

Maricopa County, among the fastest-growing regions in the country, is at the forefront of the housing crunch, which experts say boils down to low supply and high demand.

The county’s annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count, which is conducted in late January, tallied 5,029 people who were unsheltered in 2022 – up 34% from 2020. The count was canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19.

According to Zillow data, home prices in Phoenix have increased 27.8% from a year ago, and the seasonally adjusted cost of a typical home is $433,660. The median rent in Phoenix is about $2,165.

Evictions also have risen as the federal government’s moratorium to protect renters amid the COVID-19 pandemic ended. According to Eviction Lab, which tracks eviction data, there were 4,822 eviction filings in Maricopa County in May, compared with 1,459 in May 2020.

Property managers at the June 1 news conference praised Threshold.

Courtney LeVinus is president and CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association, the statewide trade association for the apartment industry. The initiative is appealing, she said, because it invites property owners to be part of the solution.

The Threshold initiative was launched June 1 at a news conference at the Arizona Multihousing Association in downtown Phoenix. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is funding Threshold through federal COVID-19 relief funds and general funds. (Photo by Julio Mora Rodriguez/Cronkite News)

Threshold, she said, “is the result of years and years of true collaboration, of listening to rental property owners and operators, understanding our needs and challenges, and working to make homeless assistance programs work for everybody, including housing providers.”

Michael Shore, the president and CEO of HOM, said he believes the company is uniquely positioned to be a driver in reducing homelessness.

Shore said HOM’s “goal is to increase the number of housing placements that we make by 20% next year.”

Gates said Maricopa County has invested $77 million in federal funds to help combat homelessness, and an additional $130 million for rent and utility assistance. Stakeholders hope the millions ultimately will pay off and help people in the region who are unhoused.

News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Julio Mora Rodriguez expects to graduate in August 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. He has interned at the Arizona Board of Regents and was a student worker for Arizona PBS.

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