Tulare County will split cost of person to coordinate housing for the homeless

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County continued its efforts to reduce homelessness in Tulare County by applying for funding traditionally used for public safety and transit.

At its Jan. 29 meeting, the Board of Supervisors applied for $2.7 million in state grants, most of which will be used for fire equipment, but a small portion of which will be set aside to hire a landlord relations specialist. The position will be responsible for marketing homeless housing programs to new and existing landlords and property managers with the goal of expanding the number of units available to persons and households experiencing homelessness.

One of the largest barriers facing housing providers in Kings and Tulare Counties is finding landlords willing to rent to people who are currently experiencing homelessness. The supply of affordable housing is too low for the increasing demand.

During the public hearing, Jenny Byers, community development manager for the City of Porterville, said Porterville has five vouchers to subsidize rent for a homeless person to get off the street but constantly has two of the five vouchers still available because there are not enough landlords willing to allow a homeless person to occupy their rentals.

The County plans to use $92,000 of the grant to fund a full time position that will be recruited, hired and managed by the Kings /Tulare Homeless Alliance (KTHA). The remaining $58,000 to fund the position will be provided by the Homeless Alliance.

Supervisor Pete Vander Poel pointed out that this is not a county position but rather a one-time funding of a full time position that could be extended if additional money became available. “If the money goes away, the position goes away,” he reiterated.

Last summer, Supervisors pledged $50,000 for a Landlord Mitigation Fund to reimburse landlords for issues that might arise from renting to at risk tenants. Machael Smith, executive director at the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance, told the supervisors that even when a person experiencing homelessness is approved for housing assistance, many landlords are unwilling to rent to them because of their unstable incomes, trails of evictions, or criminal history.

The Landlord Mitigation Fund, also known as Risk Mitigation Pool, reduces a landlord’s risk of damages and non-payment of rent by reimbursing them for any issues with transitional housing tenants. Smith said even with vouchers provided by Tulare County Housing Authority and other funding sources, someone referred for housing can wait up to 300 days before being sheltered in transitional housing. She said the fund would not only increase access to housing but also decrease the number of days people spend experiencing homelessness.

In November, the Homeless Alliance hosted Landlord Mitigation Fund Open Houses in Hanford and Visalia to give landlords and community members the opportunity to learn about the benefits of renting to program participants. At the open houses, landlords learned about the Landlord Mitigation Fund and other benefits of working with participating housing providers including intensive case management for clients and guaranteed rent.

“I’m disappointed there is not more money we can put into this but I certainly understand the need for fire trucks,” Shuklian said.

Most of the grant money will be spent on improving fire service in Earlimart. The city is applying for $1.5 million to purchase a new ladder truck and $1 million to build a larger fire bay to house the longer and taller ladder truck at Tulare County’s Fire Station No. 28 in Earlimart. The current fire truck is 20 years old and the ladder is shorter than the current industry standard of 109 feet. Taller ladders are more effective in responding to multi-story structure fires, and generally allow firefighters to direct water streams downward to increase penetration to a building interior regardless of structure height.

Fire Chief Charlie Norman said the ladder truck is being housed at Station No. 28 because Earlimart is considered a strategic priority for the Tulare County Fire Department with the recent community development projects, including a six-story hotel, and continued growth in population. Earlimart also straddles Highway 99, one of the state’s busiest freight traffic routes, which significantly increases the transient population that passes through this community. This station responds to an above average number of accident-related public safety calls.

The new ladder truck will require a clearance of 18 feet to get in and out of the station’s fire bay. The age and structural state of the existing bay will not allow a remodel of the building, so the county will need to replace it. The existing wooden bay will be replaced with a pre-engineered steel building, including new driveways and turnarounds.

The $2.7 million grant application is part of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) released by the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). While typically used to fund public safety improvements, the CDBG Program is designed to meet the national objectives of benefiting low/moderate income group households, including minority, handicapped and elderly; to eliminate slums and blight; or to meet urgent community development needs.

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