The Charitable Impulse: Part 3

housingSeven years ago and Melissa and I are buying our house.  It’s a fixer-upper, and, following in the footsteps of my father-in-law, we have dreams of renovating, flipping, and starting to build a rental portfolio.  I imagine becoming a landlord offering affordable housing to those looking to exit the street.  Not only will I be addressing homelessness in my work-life, but I will also be able to put my renovation hobby to work to end homelessness in a practical way one person at a time.

Of course, along came three children who greatly altered our timelines, budgets, and goals, but I recently ran into this dream again.  I was talking to a very thoughtful and charitable lady who was doing pretty well in life, and was thinking of developing income properties.  Like my dream, hers included having a portion of the units offered as affordable housing.  She would be the landlord, and be able to offer housing to those ready to leave the shelters or the streets.

One might assume that I would be excited by this vision but instead I felt only cautiously optimistic.  I was optimistic because our London Housing Strategy requires partners from the private sector to get involved.  However, I was cautious because I was concerned that this kind-hearted individual might get burned.  There are many tenants requiring affordable housing who would be considerate, thankful, and always pay on time.  But, there also might be tenants who would be aloof, unkind, and late with payments.  And lastly, there might be a few tenants who would take the copper pipes out of the walls, sell drugs from the unit, and disappear without ever paying.  I was picturing this thoughtful lady putting her resources and charitable impulse to work, then getting burned and giving up on charity altogether.

The questions I hard for her were: 1) What is your goal; 2) What can your role be in achieving that goal; and 3) Who might the experts be in this community to assist you in achieving that goal?  If the goal is to provide a portion of one’s units as affordable housing, I recommended that she connect with the City of London Housing Division.  They are always looking for partners like this.  They could potentially provide capital dollars to make the project a reality, and also provide a means of income-testing to find appropriate individuals.  I also recommended that she consider partnering with an organization like London CAReS who would provide intensive support for the renters and for her as the landlord.  In this way she would be both financially protected, and protected from having a bad experience and having the endeavor ruined by one individual.

The charitable impulse needs to be integrated into solutions that work, rather than simply motivated by a sense of doing good.  In the next post I’ll talk about soup, which seems incredibly benign, but is actually highly controversial.

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