Recruiting, retaining landlords housing locator’s mission

Ryan Leonardo of The Crisis House in Georgetown is attempting to match affordable rental opportunities in Sussex County with landlords as a “housing locator.” (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — Several months ago, Ryan Leonardo of the Sussex Community Crisis Housing Service assumed his new role as housing locator.

The mission: address homelessness by matching willing landlords with those seeking a roof over their heads.

“What I am tasked is to do recruit and retain landlords throughout the county that are willing to work with homeless individuals and low income individuals families, that either have vouchers or may not have a housing voucher, or may just be in the Rapid Rehousing program where they would have the rent paid for the first three months there,” said Mr. Leonardo. “I am recruiting and retaining landlords that are willing to do this.”

Last December, Sussex County government pledged upward of $35,000 as the county’s match for Home4Good — a housing locator program funded through partnership between the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh and the Delaware State Housing Authority.

Home4Good assists those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness by channeling dollars to local service organizations that know how to help.

“The housing locator project is very different from the housing search program that is online,” said Marie Morole, executive director of the Sussex Community Crisis Housing Services, at Sussex County Council’s Dec. 12 meeting. “The housing locator would go out and find the hidden housing market. There are a lot of different types of housing. There are rooms. There is mobiles. There is some kind of cooperative housing that these landlords do not put online. They are not required to provide this information on the online service.”

Thus far, initial response has been mixed.

“It’s mixed. Mind you for the first two months I am also learning the lay of the land. I’m just starting to get out there the last couple of weeks and call on landlords,” said Mr. Leonardo. “Some want no part of it. Some are interested and are willing to work with these individuals.”

Mr. Leonardo is compiling a data base that can then be tapped by local agencies in Sussex County, such as the Crisis House, homeless shelters, the People’s Place and others that are “trying to rapidly rehouse individuals.”

“Right now, I’m doing it through word of mouth with other agencies,” said Mr. Leonardo,

Mr. Leonardo, who interned with The Crisis House and then became part of its staff, earned an associate’s degree in human services from Delaware Technical Community College. Previously he worked in sales in the electrical supply business for 18 years.

“It’s part of my job. It’s kind of like a hybrid of human services and salesmanship,” he said.

Mr. Leonardo admits it is a challenge, even more so in Sussex County compared to upstate Delaware.

“There is a huge disconnect with the housing down here,” said Mr. Leonardo. “Sussex has very unique problems as far as the distances and the transportation and jobs. It’s not the same as it would be up in Wilmington. It’s a lot tougher to house people down here. They have to get to work. It’s not a big city where people can hop a bus and get to where they need to be in five minutes. There are very unique challenges.”

Mr. Leonardo says there are certain benchmarks that must be hit.

“Really, it’s learning as we go. There is models in place, but not every model is going to be sufficient for Sussex County. So, there is going to be tweaks involved,” said Mr. Leonardo. “Really, the goal right now is to educate landlords and get them on board, to say, ‘Yeah, I am willing to do this. What’s our next step.’”

“It’s definitely challenging,” he added. “It’s unique down here. This isn’t New Castle County. It’s tough sell but it’s something that I think I’m doing all right with. We definitely need more people on board. We’re trying to get the word out the best we can.”

“And there are some risk factors involved obviously when you are renting to the homeless or the low income individuals,” Mr. Leonardo added.

In the coming months the plan is hold some workshops with invitations to landlords.

“I don’t know how that is going to go over but we’re going to try it and bring them in and educate them on the need,” Mr. Leonardo said. “I mean people, we can’t expect them to do this out of the kindness of their heart. They are trying to make money as well. We kind of want to balance that, with you’re doing something good and there is money to be made.”

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