A Florida landlord of over 500 housing units has come up with a novel way to alleviate rent arrears for the tenants by pledging to forgive $100 of overdue rent for every hour a tenant volunteers at a recognized nonprofit charity.
Staffers at the Contemporary Housing Alternatives of Florida (CHAF), providing affordable housing for low-income families across Pinellas County, grew concerned for their tenants amid the CCP virus pandemic. Around 20 percent of their tenants owed rent due to losing income since March 2020 reports Tampa Bay Times.
It was the nonprofit’s director of property management, Holly Butler, 48, who dreamt up the rent forgiveness scheme. “I thought it might be a kooky idea, but I pitched it,” she explained.
Butler’s team was on board, calling it the “Back on Track” program and offering the deal to any of their tenants who had lost work or hours because of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, pandemic.
Rent for a two-bedroom apartment at CHAF’s Pinellas Park site averages $700 a month. The nonprofit had suffered a rent revenue loss of approximately $300,000 by the end of 2020.
CHAF CEO Joseph Lettelleir ventured that they might never have seen that money anyway. But the “Back on Track” program, he asserted, gives tenants “some pride and a feeling they’re doing something … Bottom line, they’re good tenants and we’d like to keep them.”
To date, more than two-dozen resident tenants have taken advantage of the program, pledging their time to food banks, trash-collection efforts, tidying up a trailer park, and clearing up trash along the shorelines with Tampa Bay Watch. One single event removed more than 400 pounds (approx. 181 kg) of garbage from the neighborhood nearby.
The charity Hope Villages of America also partnered with CHAF to support the rent relief program, welcoming volunteers to help sort, pack, and label food for distribution to a food pantry. Twenty tenants pledged 150 hours of their time, combined.
“They were excited,” Hope Villages CEO Kirk Ray Smith told WTSP. “They were glad they were no longer staying anywhere for free.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, over 8 percent of Florida residents are experiencing housing insecurity, many of whom have slight or no confidence that they will make their next month’s rent or mortgage payment.
CHAF has been supporting its tenants since the onset of the pandemic. In April 2020, every household that paid rent on time received a $25 grocery store gift card. The nonprofit also helped tenants access payment plans for staggered rent payments.
The nonprofit’s latest rent forgiveness program “takes a group that is really struggling and offers them an opportunity to hold up their head and do something for the community,” said Lettelleir.
“I was hoping that it could ignite a passion for community service,” added Butler, speaking to WFTS. “I thought if they go out and start going somewhere, they could meet people. Maybe it could lead to a job.”
CHAF hopes that other landlords of affordable housing will follow suit and help struggling demographics keep roofs over their heads in hard times.
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