Emily Flinkstrom, executive director of the organization Fair Tide in Kittery, reached out to area landlords recently to urge them to accept tenants with housing vouchers. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — This week, 275 landlords received a letter from Fair Tide’s executive director about partnering with the housing support services nonprofit to provide expanded opportunities in town for those with housing vouchers.

The landlord outreach is a piece of Fair Tide’s five-year strategic plan, as it looks to make available at least 15 private rental market units to families or individuals moving out of homelessness. But it’s also part of a larger town conversation examining the consequences of not being able to provide housing for the area workforce or critically vulnerable individuals, and how that lack may affect Kittery’s long-time economically diverse population.

Fair Tide Executive Director Emily Flinkstrom said her mailing is a call to action for landlords; community members in a “unique position to help.”

“We hope that our reputation as a long-standing nonprofit serving Kittery for 20 years will encourage recipients to reach out and learn more about how they can partner with us to make a difference,” Flinkstrom said. “There is so much misinformation and stigma around renting to folks who have a housing voucher and have experienced homelessness, but the reality is that more and more households are falling into this fate simply because they can’t keep up with rising housing costs.”

Flinkstrom said the organization’s goal is to provide necessary education for landlords to make an informed decision about whether or not they want to participate in Fair Tide’s efforts.

In Flinkstrom’s letter, she wrote Fair Tide seeks partnerships with landlords who are interested in contributing to the well-being of their community by setting aside rental units for households experiencing homelessness.

“In addition to helping people in need, there are real tangible benefits to the partnership including guaranteed rent through a federally funded housing voucher, longer-term tenants, which reduces turnover cost, the ability to screen and choose tenants you feel are a good fit, and the added reassurance of Fair Tide’s case manager who will be providing long-term support to these households,” she wrote.

With Kittery’s low vacancy rate, reflecting that of many other Seacoast communities, Fair Tide clients have a hard time finding any available units, let alone ones where the rent is low enough for a voucher payment, Flinkstrom said.

“I have to believe that there are landlords out there who want to help,” she said.

Flinkstrom said in Fair Tide’s mailing, she focused on multi-unit properties within a few different zones in town including Admiralty Village, the Foreside and the residential urban zoning district. “We’re trying to pinpoint areas that are close to jobs, services and other necessities of daily living,” she said.

The idea of landlord incentives is a conversation being had by the Greater Seacoast Coalition to End Homelessness, but also something Flinkstrom has brought to the attention of Kittery Town Manager Kendra Amaral and the inclusionary housing working group studying possible avenues for Kittery. While the working group is certainly in its early stages, Amaral said they’ve discussed the possibility of incentivizing property owners as a potential necessary step in achieving the needed housing stock.

Flinkstrom is leading a housing opportunities work group within the Greater Seacoast Coalition to End Homelessness that’s exploring the idea of working with smaller communities to implement a tax incentive program for landlords to accept vouchers. The group is in the process of researching possible incentives, what they would look like and how they’d be funded and administered.

The group is also looking into the idea of a “reassurance fund” for participating landlords; something they could tap into if there was damage to the unit beyond the security deposit amount, or if a tenant did fall behind in rent.

“We recognize that rental housing is a business, and are trying to find ways to sweeten the bottom line as a way to incentivize landlords to participate,” Flinkstrom said.

Currently, Fair Tide supports seven households in permanent housing. Through the landlord outreach, the hope is to open up an additional 13 units for people moving out of homelessness by the end of 2020.

Also part of the five-year strategic plan is a partnership to bring a 45-unit mixed-income development to the Kittery area, with around 15 units set aside for households moving out of homelessness, with the remainder rented as workforce and market-rate housing.

A landlord information session is being held by the Greater Seacoast Coalition to End Homelessness on Sept. 25 at 4:30 p.m. at Tuscan Kitchen on Lafayette Road in Portsmouth. To RSVP by the Sept. 7 deadline or to learn more about the partnership, call Flinkstrom at (207) 439-6376 or email executivedirector@fairtide.org.

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