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Allegheny County will pay extra to landlords who rent to people exiting homelessness

Rich Pedroncelli
Allegheny County's Department of Human Services is seeking more landlords who will rent to people exiting homelessness.

Allegheny County is offering new financial incentives to landlords who will rent affordable apartments to people exiting homelessness.

New landlords can receive a $2,000 sign-on payment for any apartment newly rented to a person or family exiting homelessness, county human service officials said earlier this week. Landlords who renew leases can also get $1,000 retention bonuses.

The incentive payments are part of the county Department of Human Services’ existing “Housing Navigator Unit.” Housing navigators help homeless individuals find and maintain an affordable apartment, recruit landlords who will rent to DHS clients, and also work to resolve complaints or problems that arise.

The program also offers guaranteed rental payments as well as a risk mitigation fund to cover potential losses.

“We understand that a big deterrent for landlords to rent to people moving out of a shelter is financial risk,” said DHS Director Erin Dalton in a statement. “With program incentives and a housing advocate who can serve as a connection between landlords and tenants to address issues before they arise, we hope to remove this barrier and make this an easy choice for landlords needing to find new tenants.”

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A February 2022 tally of people experiencing homelessness in Allegheny County counted 880 individuals, an increase of 188 people from 2021, though roughly the same number as were counted in 2020. Most of those people were in emergency shelters, 105 were unhoused.

City and county officials have wrestled with how to respond to a rise in visible homelessness and tent encampments since last summer. A long-awaited new low-barrier shelter for homeless individuals opened in November and was quickly filled to capacity. Last month, citing a lack of transitional housing between shelters and permanent housing, city officials advanced a bill to identify city-owned properties where emergency shelters or temporary housing could be built be built for homeless residents.

Affordable housing for people exiting shelters is a major barrier to getting people housed, said Chuck Keenan, an administrator with the Allegheny County DHS Bureau of Homeless Services.

“The majority of our homeless system is reliant on private landlords. We have shelters that take people off the street, obviously. But then they need to move on to an apartment from there," Keenan said. "So, that's where we have some…clogging of our system is people just not being able to exit shelter because they can't find an apartment."

“There's currently over 100 clients that we're working with that are in shelter that are enrolled in one of these programs that are actively looking for housing. So, we need today over 100 apartments to rent in the private market,” he added. The county’s homeless system supports about 2,000 permanent housing units at any given time; almost all of these are leased through private landlords.

Incentives are important to recruit potential landlords, said Anita Zuberi, an assistant professor at Duquesne University who has studied housing issues.

“Research shows that the issue of risk is something landlords weigh when making decisions about who to rent to, and acknowledging the risk with the additional incentive payment may lead some new landlords to be open to the opportunity,” she said.

The mostly smaller-scale landlords she has studied, “liked the idea of helping people, if it financially worked for them.”

More information on the program is available at

Landlords interested in taking part in the pilot can email the DHS Housing Navigator Unit at:

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.