In recent years, the Bear River Region (BRR) in northern Utah experienced unprecedented increases in homelessness compared to the rest of the state. Where housing demand outpaces supply, getting Utahans who are homeless into housing is extremely difficult. The BRR lacks an adequate homeless response system, making prevention more critical. Without adequate emergency shelters, individuals are sleeping in cars or other places not met for human habitation until they are approved for housing assistance and able to find a landlord willing to help. Housing programs rely on strong connections with landlords, which is important in high-cost, low-vacancy markets like the BRR. Research suggests BRR landlords are willing to help address homelessness, but they do not know where to begin. Using a community-engaged approach, this study sought to identify program elements to improve attitudes and increase awareness of landlords regarding homelessness; uncover incentives to entice program participation; and discern effective program delivery methods.
The present study was designed and implemented collaboratively with social work faculty, students, and community stakeholders, including government officials, social service providers, and landlords. A qualitative design with semi-structured interviews was employed to gather perspectives of landlords (n=15) related to program development. Applying a deductive approach with a framework guided by a previous study, two-cycle coding was applied. First, investigators descriptively coded data and then met to address discrepancies. The second cycle, pattern coding, was conducted collaboratively, as investigators worked together to condense codes into themes and accompanying subcodes.
Three major themes emerged: 1) attitudes and knowledge of homelessness and housing; 2) tenant and landlord relations; and 3) program design. Most landlords agreed that causes of poverty are largely due to outside circumstances and not personal attributes. Landlords cited unemployment, lack of education, and lack of affordable housing as causes. Most landlords lacked knowledge of community resources. All landlords expressed a dislike for evicting tenants and take precautions to avoid it, including ground rules, mutual agreements, and warnings. Almost all landlords expressed that they try to understand tenant situations to avoid and resolve conflict. As far as program design elements, there was an overwhelming consensus on a hybrid educational model (online and in-person). Landlords discussed potential engagement program incentives for including reduced licensing fees and gift cards. Additionally, landlords noted program elements that might entice them to participate in housing programs such as double deposits, damage protection, and other risk mitigation strategies.
Though they lacked knowledge about how to help, most BRR landlords were sympathetic and open to participating in a program to learn more about these issues and resources. Further, they expressed interest in partaking in housing programs if risk mitigation strategies were implemented. Using these findings, students, faculty, and stakeholders will develop and pilot the landlord engagement program – sharing data with housing program staff, local and state government representatives, and potential funders in hopes of deploying the program on a larger scale. The study’s findings and its community-engaged framework have implications for a wide range of stakeholders, particularly community-engaged scholars.