Convincing property owners and landlords to rent to homeless individuals and families may not be the sole answer to Bakersfield’s homelessness crisis.

But many believe it’s an important tool in the fight against homelessness.

The Income Property Association of Kern will host its third annual California Landlords’ Summit on Homelessness from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday — and organizers hope to build on the successes they saw last year and the year before.

“At last year’s summit, landlords pledged 84 units toward housing Kern County homeless,” said Ian Sharples, executive director of the Income Property Association of Kern.

But even more rental units were offered in the days following the summit, raising the number to 94 people who received housing as a result of the summit, Sharples said. These are individuals who might otherwise be living in a car, a shelter or even on the street.

These are not short-term tenants. According to Sharples, the percentage of former homeless who were still housed one year later was in the mid- to high 90s.

The annual summit has been lauded as a model for landlord outreach, he said. But like so many other events held this year, the meeting of hundreds of local landlords and advocates for local homeless residents will be conducted via Zoom due to COVID-19 concerns.

“One advantage of moving online,” Sharples said, “is that it allowed us to feature a guest speaker we might not have gotten otherwise.”

That speaker is author, professional engineer and land-use planner Charles L. Marohn Jr., founder and president of Strong Towns. Marohn will discuss how cities can create more naturally affordable housing.

How does it work?

Just about anyone who works with the homeless will tell you that finding solutions is made more difficult due to public perceptions that are often driven by stereotypes and broad assumptions.

Heather Kimmel, assistant executive director of the Housing Authority of the County of Kern, said summit organizers and her staff are able to overcome these and other barriers by creating a system that protects both the tenant and the landlord, and provides incentives for both to make the relationship work.

“There’s a perceived risk,” she said. “There’s a lot of stereotypes.”

But once a property owner signals interest in housing a homeless client, a member of the housing authority staff follows up to answer questions and exchange information.

Each proposed tenant has been given a voucher, which requires the tenant to pay about 30 percent of their income toward rent. The balance is covered by a variety of funding sources through the housing authority.

“We have over a 90 percent success rate … a very low turnover, way lower than the market rate,” Kimmel said.

Lower turnover means landlords are not dealing with as many vacant units, which generate zero income and require more work to rent out.

And for landlords concerned about tenants damaging a rental unit, the authority has a claims system that addresses those concerns.

“Less than 5 percent of landlords have made these claims,” she said. “It’s really rare.”

Case workers are the secret to success

One of the most important pieces of the puzzle is that a case worker is assigned to every landlord-tenant relationship.

Rebecca Moreno worked as a case worker before she became homeless program services supervisor at the Community Action Partnership of Kern, one of several nonprofits and organizations that train case workers to work as a liaison between landlord and tenant.

“The landlord is always encouraged to call the case manager with questions or concerns,” Moreno said.

A housing inspection is scheduled monthly. Meetings are regular.

“So that they don’t feel like they’re dealing with it alone,” she said.

In this way, both tenant and property owner have someone watching out for them.

In the meantime, Sharples said, these programs save millions in the long run.

According to a report published in late 2017 by the RAND Corp., placing homeless people into housing and connecting them to a case manager for services saved $1.20 in health care and other social service costs for every $1 spent on the program.

With the advent of COVID-19, those health care costs may be even higher.

“The homeless population is at extreme risk of contracting COVID,” Moreno said.

“I feel that the California Landlords’ Summit on Homelessness has been a valuable assist to the fight against homelessness,” she said. “We were able to increase the number of units pledged in the second year and we are hoping to do the same this year — despite all the challenges we are facing as a community.”

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.