Safe, secure, and affordable housing is deeply tied to mental health and well-being.
Canadian housing insecurity has worsened with COVID-19’s economic fallout over the past 16 months. Mass job losses and layoffs have resulted in many tenants across Canada falling behind in their rent. Fifty-six per cent of respondents in a 2020 Daily Bread Food Bank report said they could not afford both rent and food.1
As health officials warn of a surging mental health crisis, rental housing providers can be part of the solution by adopting resolution-based initiatives that focus on keeping tenants in their homes. These initiatives have measurable benefits—not only for the tenant, but for the rental housing provider, for the industry, and for the greater community.
A philosophical shift toward tenant support
Most tenants want to pay rent and remain in good standing.
With this belief in mind, Skyline Living, a national rental housing provider with more than 34,000 tenants in 60 Canadian communities, launched its in-house tenant support program, R.I.S.E. (Reach, Impact, Support, Elevate) in 2018.
Through facilitating the program, Skyline Living concluded that many of its tenants with arrears had fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. The R.I.S.E. program was designed to assist these tenants. It provides in-house mediation to put the tenant in touch with social supports, as well as financial assistance if the tenant does not qualify for those social supports or if they do not provide sufficient coverage.
This past year, Skyline Living also reorganized its internal operations to support this new tenant-focused support program. Its Landlord & Tenant team became the Tenant Support Team, while its Customer Service and Marketing departments joined forces to become the Tenant Experience Team. Resources and positions shifted so that the entire company could take a proactive, resolution-based approach to tenant relations.
Additionally, Skyline Living operations teams received training to help them identify individuals who may be a good fit for the R.I.S.E. program.
“Tenants are the backbone of a rental housing provider’s business,” said BJ Santavy, Vice President, Skyline Living.
“As an industry, we must fundamentally change the way we operate. We owe it to tenants to provide assistance when they are struggling with hardship.”
The results tell the story
A successfully designed tenant support program can not only deliver a return on investment, but provide far-reaching social and financial benefits.
Skyline Living’s R.I.S.E. program has seen incredible payback resulting in multiplied cost savings in operations.
Skyline Living budgets annually for the program based on data from previous years and projected tenant needs. Any funds unused by the program by year-end are deployed to national community organizations that provide food security, supportive housing, and/or mental health services in the communities in which Skyline Living operates.
Through 2019 and 2020, the R.I.S.E. program had 618 open tenant files, of which 468 were successfully closed, meaning that the tenant managed to get back on track and stay in their home through assistance or guidance via the program. This equates to an incredible 75 per cent success rate.
“When tenants find out they have been approved for assistance, they often break down in tears in relief and gratitude,” said Santavy.
“Having that stress and burden relieved from them gives them the opportunity to move forward with their lives, work and families.”
2021 is shaping up to be another busy year for the program, with nearly 160 new tenant applications so far.
“COVID-19 lockdowns will affect tenants’ financial stability for the long term,” Santavy said.
“It’s not too late for rental housing providers to put an effective program in place to help their customers.”
The potential impact is far-reaching
In October 2020, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) stated, “Evidence indicates that having a place to call home means a better quality of life and success in education and work. And housing with appropriate supports is shown to improve outcomes from even severe mental health and addictions problems.”2
Keeping tenants housed can prevent stressors associated with potential eviction and homelessness, directly improving Canadian housing stability. This equates to less stress on homeless shelters, social assistance and mental health programs, and the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Skyline Living has seen far-reaching benefits with its R.I.S.E. program, including improved tenant loyalty, retention, referrals, and community reputation, as well as staff engagement, as employees feel a sense of pride in working for a company that supports its customers in this way.
Tenant support programs also help to open dialogue with governing bodies and decision-makers to promote positive change in the rental housing industry.
R.I.S.E. has garnered the attention of national and industry media, and some rental housing providers have consulted with Skyline Living on launching their own tenant support programs, which Santavy sees as promising.
“We encourage our industry peers to reach out to us about starting their own support programs.,” she said.
“We need to work together as an industry to prove that rental housing providers do care about their tenants. Together, we can play an active role in helping to keep tenants in their homes.”