Organizations Struggle to find Rental Options for Homeless Under SAFE-CR

By Jill Kasparie, KCRG-TV9

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A city program to crack down on problem properties in Cedar Rapids might not be benefiting everybody.

The program is called SAFE-CR, and it works to reduce calls to nuisance properties. It comes with several new rules for landlords, including required rental training, fines for repeated disturbance calls, and required tenant background checks.

Some of those rules are especially affecting a group of possible tenants.

The beds at the Mission of Hope Shelter House are filled with men without a home of their own. Shelter leaders say right they are at or over 100-percent full.

“The shelter housing itself, I believe is in higher demand because it’s harder to place people in rentals that have criminal backgrounds or background that landlords are being more careful with now with the new nuisance laws,” said Mission of Hope Executive Director Martin Dwyer.

He’s not the only one seeing the issue. Chris Myers is the Homeless Outreach Social Worker at the Abbe Center and works to find a landlord who will take people in.

“It’s been, I would say, kind of gradually getting more and more difficult,” Myers said.

The holdup happens when landlords do a background check, which is required by the ordinance.

Executive Director of the Willis Dady Emergency Shelter said many clients share similar stories.

“Some type of criminal background would be very much the rule rather than the exception,” said Willis Dady Emergency Shelter Executive Director Tim Wilson.

Organizations said landlords are more hesitant to rent to those who have a criminal background out of fear they’ll rack up fines.

According to SAFE-CR, after a number of violations and police calls for service, a property can be labeled a nuisance. Once that happens, hefty fines can follow.

“That property owner could be charged for that police call for service, financially, and that would be $94 per hour, per officer,” said SAFE-CR’s Amanda Grieder.

The city, however, said this ordinance is all about safety.

“We don’t provide landlords or property owners with a recommendation of who to rent to, so they are making those choices on who to rent to without any advisement from the city,” Grieder said.

Shelter leaders just hope soon they’ll see more empty beds and more people in permanent housing.

“I just think that some changes need to be made, but like I said, I don’t know that that is going to happen any time soon,” Myers said.

Organizations said they’d like to see some kind of a “goodwill” clause for landlords willing to take a chance on helping the homeless.

The city said it does have a group of people continuously monitoring SAFE-CR policies and getting feedback from the community.

l Comments: 319-398-8268; jill.kasparie@kcrg.com

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