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Landlords meet in Richland, discuss tenant aid

August 8, 2018

RICHLAND TOWNSHIP—The Greater Johnstown Landlord Association on Tuesday discussed options for rental assistance for homeless families.

At Hoss’s Steak & Sea House, association members met with representatives from the Community Action Partnership of Cambria and Blair counties, Peer Empowerment Network and Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania.

Landlord Tim Sabo, with the association, said the idea was to get landlords to meet with representatives of these programs and learn about options that are available for prospective tenants.

“I wasn’t aware of programs providing homeless assistance to people until recently, and we’ve been renting properties for 10 years,” he said.

Sabo said he became aware of these programs when an individual kept applying for assistance from a homeless shelter in Somerset.

“I called (people) and started finding out there are a lot of programs out here that do this,” he said.

Zackary Portser was a veteran for 10 years before he found the Veterans Leadership Program on the Indeed job website. The service coordinator said rural conditions and a lack of staffing result in many people not knowing that these services are available. The program offers various plans for housing assistance and employment programs for local veterans.

“There are days I’m leaving Somerset County and driving 200 miles to Armstrong County, and I’m the only person covering there,” he said. “So if I’m not doing it, there’s no one else doing it.”

Portser said despite these services, fewer than 14,000 veterans in the service area, which include Armstrong, Indiana, Westmoreland, Cambria and Somerset counties, apply for help. Portser said his program isn’t a handout but assistance for those who have served their country and need aid.

“You hit a low, and we just want to give you that time to get back where you need to be,” he said.

Sabo said many landlords have problems with the Section 8 housing voucher program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to Sabo, the No. 1 problem with Section 8 is case management and a lack of accountability, which sometimes causes tenants to mistreat the landlord’s property.

“You get a tenant in, and the case manager just disappears,” he said.

Sabo added the goal when working with an individual who is homeless is to bring them in and get them assistance until they are self-sufficient. Sabo said landlords would be more willing to use programs that provide guidance to and accountability for prospective tenants.

“We are looking for better case management with these programs,” he said.

Landlord Nicholas Paros leases buildings in Richland and Forest Hills. He said he doesn’t have a lot of Section 8 tenants because it causes too many problems. Paros said there needs to be a balance between landlords and tenants in which tenants respect the property and landlords look out for the tenants.

“It sounds like there is definitely some programs that are really trying to get people a bit more sustainable, and that’s encouraging to hear,” he said.

Portser said landlords won’t work with the veterans program because of the problems they have with Section 8; however, his program focuses on case management and making sure veterans are self-sustaining.

“We’re a launching board,” he said. “We are not just watching you dive, but helping you along the way.”

Sabo said as long as these programs provide that accountability, more landlords will go to them rather than Section 8.

“The last thing you want to do as a landlord is evict somebody,” he said. “You want them to succeed.”

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