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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2 Responses to The Charitable Impulse: Part 3

  1. Frances says:

    The desire to make a difference is felt by many of us and we may even have the idea and means to do so. Abe, it is so critically important that the linkages are made between those in the field and those who wish to create change.

    Having worked for a time within the field of woman abuse, I became educated about the specter of women and their coping methods and mental health needs. Some had developed addictions, were coping with mental health problems and of course had various financial acumen. Without the knowledge and leadership of those who understand the range of needs and the potential pitfalls, an opportunity to make lasting change cannot only be lost, but so too the energy and enthusiasm of the community partner.

    Thank you for so aptly pointing out these areas of consideration. Being better informed moves us all forward in our attempts to create stronger communities.

  2. Len Sterling says:

    All these concerns are very valid but it should be noted that many homeless only stay in one apartment for a short period of time. To attempt to get people to be perfect tenants and pay the rent on time is just too unrealistic. A good idea might be to purchase a motel and make the rooms affordable. If this was done a person could pay month to month maybe even week to week and when they decided to move on they would not owe any rent and the owner could rent out the room again quickly. Affordable housing in an apartment setting is not fair to people because once a person gets behind on rent they are spending months catching up on rent or end up evicted with a huge amount of arrears. Affordable motel rooms would allow clients to be homeless if they could not pay the rent one month but allow them to move back into a room the very following month. I feel motel rooms with kitchenettes is the very best option because it allows renter to screw up without a big penalty and allows the renter flexibility. I don’t think affordable housing in its current form is working so I hope at some point affordable housing switches to a model that aligns more with what works for people exiting the streets and recognizes that they may choose to return to the streets at some point.

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