For rent sign.psd

On Jan. 8, the Teton County Joint Housing Authority met with Community Resource Center director Betsy Hawkins to discuss the nonprofit organization’s housing security deposit program and how to help broaden its reach.

The burden of paying first and last month’s rent and a security deposit, in a rental market where most houses far exceed $1,000 per month, is more than many can afford. The CRC security deposit program was instituted in October of 2018 using around $13,000 that was set aside for housing by Teton County and the Idaho Housing and Finance Association a decade ago. Initially the CRC offered to provide a guarantee to landlords that the security deposit would be paid. The tenant paid the CRC the cost of the deposit over time, and then the CRC transferred that money to the landlord.

Unfortunately, Hawkins told the housing authority last week, nobody was interested. Landlords were leery of not getting cash in hand despite receiving a certificate of guarantee. In June of 2019, Hawkins and the CRC board decided to shift direction on the program, and the CRC now provides up front loans to tenants for security deposits.

Hawkins said that since then, she has successfully worked with four households and with four different landlords and managed to distribute $3,200 in security deposits. Each family has been making monthly, interest free payments to the CRC and no one has defaulted on the loan yet.

“No one has given negative feedback about this version of the program,” Hawkins said. “The million dollar question is, how to advertise the service?”

In addition to telling her clients about the program, she has informed local property management companies, large employers like Grand Targhee Resort, the guidance counselor at school, and Teton County. She said one problem is a lack of follow-through from interested parties. The application does require references from previous landlords, a monthly expense breakdown, and proof of income for each wage-earner of the household. The landlord needs to prove that the rental is a safe and livable space. Applicants must earn between 50 and 80 percent of the area median income, which for a single person is between $24,000 and $38,000. A household of four can make up to $54,400 and still be eligible for a security deposit loan.

Hawkins said sometimes people realize too late that they need emergency rent assistance, when they could have instead received assistance paying the initial cost of a new rental.

“It went very smoothly with the folks we have worked with. The question is how to get this option in the minds of people before they run into trouble,” Hawkins mused.

Housing authority member Shawn Hill said it was the commission’s responsibility to actively promote the program, and see to it that the whole fund is expended as loans.

“As we are out in the community, we need to make it a personal goal to leverage that resource to its greatest extent,” he said.

The joint housing authority, which convened for the first time in December, is chewing on some of the ideas presented in the 2019 Teton County Affordable Housing Strategic Plan, including subsidized housing through the low-income housing tax credit program.

“How many affordable housing units would you like to see in the valley?” Hill asked Hawkins.

“As many as you can provide,” Hawkins said with bitter humor. “The lack of affordable housing is the single biggest problem we can’t even remotely fix. When I talk to clients who are looking for rentals, they don’t have Teton Valley budgets. If you are not being proactive, in line waiting your turn [for one of the few subsidized housing units in the valley], you don’t have a chance.”

The CRC also helps people apply for energy bill assistance, maintains a rental inventory list, and in emergency situations can provide rent payment assistance through its Quality of Life fund. All applications and information can be found at crctv.org.

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