Archive for April, 2010

30th April
written by naehblog

If you’ve never read UNITY of Greater New Orleans blog Signs of Life in Greater New Orleans, do it now. This post highlights the complex issues many chronically homeless people face, as well as their dedication to finding each and every person a place to call home. Last week, UNITY GNO took home our Nonprofit Achievement Award and this week, let’s continue to celebrate their work.

Although we’ve been discussing programs like the National Housing Trust Fund and the Housing and Services Demonstration Program, our key federal priorities are still on our minds. Here’s some updates:

  • The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program is one with transformative potential, and an initiative we’ve covered extensively on this blog. The latest on the significance of HPRP comes from from’s End Homelessness blog. Blogger Steven Samra writes:
    The beauty of HPRP over the few other sources of assistance available is that agencies participating in HPRP are able to help remove the huge barriers to housing that people who are newly homeless often face.

  • We’ve been paying particular attention to the struggles facing female veterans experiencing homelessness, and it looks like the federal government is, too. The Department of Labor announced a $5 million dollar grant for reintegration initiatives this week, while one former servicewoman in Florida moved into her new home.
  • We’re also keeping a close eye on data released from January Point in Time counts. This week Dallas announced that despite national economic woes, their homeless population decreased slightly and they saw significant decreases in the number of chronically homeless people.

In other news, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities discussed the importance of the Housing Voucher Choice Program and its role in ending homelessness on their new blog Off the Charts. THe post also provides some useful historical context.

Finally, we’ll have a full report next week, but we’re excited to announce the formation of a Congressional Homeless Caucus! Stay tuned for more details.

29th April
written by naehblog

It’s been a long, ongoing struggle to create and fund a National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). After years of campaigning, advocates won a huge victory in July 2008 when Congress passed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, which established the NHTF.

The legislation that created the NHTF also included a funding mechanism but unfortunately, that mechanism involved using resources from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and only if they are in sound condition. That’s not the case now, and it may not be for a very long time.

So now, nearly 2 years later, Congress still hasn’t put any money into the Trust Fund. In December, the House passed a “jobs bill” that includes $1 billion for the NHTF, along with an additional $65 million for project-based vouchers to be coupled with the Trust Fund grants. However, the Senate has yet to follow suit.

To encourage Congress to finally provide some initial funds for the NHTF, the National Housing Trust Fund Campaign is collecting organizational signatures on a sign-on letter calling on Congress to provide $1 billion for the NHTF.

So far, an astounding 1,684 organizations from across the country have signed on! Their goal is to get organizations from every single congressional district in the country to sign on. So far, we’re at 379 out of 435 congressional districts.

If your organization hasn’t signed on yet, click here to sign on~! Below is a list of the congressional districts not yet represented on the letter:

Why is the NHTF so important? The NHTF would provide funds to help communities build, rehabilitate, and preserve housing units for the lowest-income households, which is critical for preventing and ending homelessness.

At least 90 percent of the Trust Fund resources have to be used for rental housing, and at least 75 percent of those funds must serve extremely low income households – those households earning 30 percent or less of the area median income (AMI) – or households living below the federal poverty line. All funds must serve households below 50 percent of AMI, or very low income households.

28th April
written by naehblog

Our Senate sign-on letter asking for $2.4 billion for McKinney-Vento programs has been signed, sealed and delivered with 28 Senator signatures – and you made it happen! Those federal funds will be used to keep homeless assistance programs up and running in your community and across the country.

But it’s not over yet. As appropriations season begins, let’s keep up the pressure on Senators and Representatives to provide $2.4 billion for McKinney programs!

Here’s how:

  • More Letters. If your Senator didn’t sign onto the group Dear Colleague letter, you can ask him/her to send an individual letter to the Senate HUD appropriations subcommittee. You can find a list of which Senators signed onto the letter here.

  • Site Visits. Urge your Senator or Representative to visit a local program while they’re home over the Memorial Day Recess (May 30 – June 6). Click here for sample invitations and tools for inviting Members of Congress to visit a program. Email if you want help planning a site visit – we’d love to work with you!
  • Media. Members of Congress pay close attention to their local papers, so another way to reiterate the importance of making ending homelessness a federal priority and funding McKinney programs is to write an op-ed for your local paper, particularly over congressional recesses. Let us know if we can help you work to earn media.

Your hard work hasn’t gone unrecognized: several of our Senate signatories were reluctant initially, but advocates stepped up their efforts and Senators responded. As a result, we got 5 more signatures than last year! (Special shout-outs to folks working hard in California, Connecticut, Illinois and Minnesota.)

This increase in Senate support shows how effective your advocacy can be. Keep reading this blog to stay up-to-date and keep making your voice heard!

Comments Off
27th April
written by naehblog

In the homelessness world, we have a keen awareness of the need to link services with housing for homeless people with a lot of barriers to maintaining their housing. But at the federal level, getting the agencies that operate housing and services programs to coordinate their efforts has been a real challenge.

We also know that trying to end homelessness using only the resources provided by homeless specific programs won’t work. We need to find better ways to tap into “mainstream programs:” those programs that serve low-income people generally, and have much higher levels of funding.

The Housing and Services for Homeless Persons Demonstration Program was proposed by the Obama Administration, and it combines Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers funded by HUD with services provided by a combination of HHS programs, including a special grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and Medicaid.

Last week, the Alliance helped pull together a roundtable discussion between officials from HUD, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the White House, some key Congressional staff, and a Leadership Council, which consists of officials from several cities across the country who are working to end homelessness. The topic of conversation was a new proposal to combine housing subsidies with services to help end homelessness for 10,000 families and individuals.

The great thing about this demonstration program is that it tackles both the need to link services to housing and the need to tap into additional resources. It uses mainstream programs, including Section 8, TANF, and Medicaid, and it tries to bridge the HUD and HHS bureaucracies.

At the roundtable discussion and in various other meetings with Congressional and Administration officials, I’ve noticed that the people developing this program are deeply engaged in making it work and work well. They are asking the right questions, and they are going farther than the collaboration efforts of the past. It leaves me optimistic that even in this time of tight budgets and ridiculously high unemployment, we can do something that brings us a giant step closer to ending homelessness once and for all.

26th April
written by naehblog

On Thursday, March 22, the Alliance hosted our annual Awards Ceremony – a celebration of the leaders and innovators in the housing and homelessness fields.

All the luminaries in the field were in attendance, including all our awardees, our partners from like-minded and like-missioned organizations, and federal officials.

More information about the Awards Ceremony can be found on the event website and pictures from the event can be found our our Facebook fan page.

A sampling of pictures are below. As you can see, Nan Roman, president and CEO of the Alliance, was certainly speaking from earnest experience when she wrote for the Huffington Post: “this is what ending homelessness looks like.”

Comments Off
23rd April
written by naehblog

From the resignation of NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Rob Hess’s to HUD’s proposal for a new definition of homelessness, from the deadline for Senators to support a $2.4 allocation for McKinney Vento programs in the FY2011 federal budget to our Annual Awards Ceremony last night, it’s been quite a week here at the Alliance.

While we recover from last night’s festivities, check out some of the coverage of our Awards Ceremony from across the country:

  • Folks in New Orleans joined us in recognizing the re-housing and prevention efforts of UNITY GNO. In particular, this piece notes that the organization got 500 homeless people in their own apartments over eight months after Hurricance Katrina.

  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer heralded the success of congressional ally Senator Patty Murray, as well as baseball-player-turned-affordable housing champion Mo Vaughn.
  • The Boston Globe shouted out to hometown hero Mo Vaughn.
  • In the Huffington Post, Alliance President Nan Roman wrote about our awardees:

    These leaders have proven that through innovation, creativity, and unyielding allegiance to the cause, we can make progress on the greatest social challenges. Their examples show that we can aim towards a time when everyone has a place to call home.

    This is what we aspire to tonight, as we gather to recognize the achievement towards our collective goal. This is what we honor, the persistent hope of a country without homelessness. This is what ending homelessness looks like.

And finally, the New York Times painted a complex picture of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program – something we’ve covered extensively on this blog. We think it’s a transformative initiative, but the Times points out some of its drawbacks. What do you think?

22nd April
written by Darcy Klingle

The Alliance’s 2010 Awards Ceremony will be held today – Thursday, April 22 – at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

As Meeting and Events Coordinator here at the Alliance, it has been my privilege and responsibility to see another Awards Ceremony come together. The event is a great opportunity to reflect on the significance of our work and recognize the accomplishments of our friends and colleagues. As a community, this moment marks a time when we’re able to pause, appreciate, and celebrate.

It’s a wonderful event every year, and I can’t wait to see you all there!

And – as a special sneak preview- I thought I’d share a few things I’m looking forward to at tonight’s Awards Ceremony:

  • Mistress of Ceremonies, Ms. Judy Woodruff:
    For the second year in a row Judy Woodruff, PBS Senior Correspondent, will serve as Mistress of Ceremonies. The broadcast journalist has covered politics and national news for CNN, NBC and PBS and now regularly co-anchors the PBS NewsHour. We’re delighted to have the lovely and charming Judy back!  
  • Musical guest Mighty Sam McClain:
    During his journey towards music, Mighty Sam McClain personally faced episodes of homelessness and can attest to the significance the experience has had in his life. Mighty The Grammy Award Nominee, will serve as a very special guest performer in tonight’s event.
  • T-Shirts:
    Alliance “End Homelessness” t-shirts are making their debut at the Awards Ceremony reception following the Ceremony. Shirts are $15 and proceeds will go to Alliance programs. Make sure to pick one up 
  • Mmm, crabcakes!
    Of all the refreshments that will be served at the reception, the crab cakes really need their own special number: lucky number seven! Crab cakes at the Awards Ceremony have become tradition through the years – and they never fail to please! Make sure to try one (or two!) tonight!
  • Did we mention the view?
    D.C. offers some spectacular evening views – complete with majestic skyline – but in the four years that I’ve lived in Washington, I can firmly say that the outdoor terrace at the Kennedy Center rivals the best of them.
  • The main event!
    We haven’t forgotten the main event! This year, we truly have reason to celebrate. The night’s awardees have shown such commitment, innovation, and tireless effort in our collective goal to end homelessness. What I’m really struck by is the diversity of the night’s special guests: from former MLB first baseman Mo Vaughn to human rights activist Martha Kegel to public servant Sen. Patty Murray. We thank them for their incredible work and this opportunity to recognize their achievement.
Comments Off
21st April
written by naehblog

Today, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) released Out of Reach, an annual analysis of the cost of rental housing in the United States.

In order to understand the report, it’s important to establish two things:

  • “Fair Market Rent” refers to the national average cost of a rental unit; it usually refers to a two-bedroom unit.
  • ”Housing Wage” refers to the hourly wage a person must earn – working full-time – in order to afford Fair Market Rent.

The report found that a family needs to earn $18.44 per hour in order to afford a modest rental, two-bedroom home in the United States. This amounts to $38,360 per year – $16,310 more than the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Key findings of the report include:

  • In 2010, the estimated average wage for renters in the United States is $14.44 – a decline from $14.69 in 2009;
  • At the federal minimum wage of $7.25, a household would have top work 102 hours a week to afford the national average FMR;
  • There is no county in the United States in which a full-time minimum wage worker can afford even a one-bedroom apartment at FMR.

The report also found that the two-bedroom Housing Wage topped $20 in 10 states, including the District of Columbia, California, New York, Florida, and Hawaii. The five most expensive metro areas included San Francisco (CA), Honolulu (HI), Stamford-Norwalk (CT), San Cruz-Watsonville (CA), and Westchester County (NY) – the housing wage for each of those areas topped $30 per hour.

In their report, the NLIHC calls upon Congress to allocate $1 billion to the National Housing Trust Fund, a federal program that, once capitalized, could provide funds to build, preserve, and rehabilitate rental homes accessible for very low-income households.

From our perspective, this report shows that the most vulnerable residents of the United States are struggling to maintain housing. The risk of homelessness becomes more and more salient as rental rates rise and wages fall, especially for those already on the precarious brink of economic stability.

What this report demonstrates is the necessity of approaching the problem: we are now living in a country where the FMR of a two-bedroom apartment is just under $40,000 a year. We are now living in a country where a person earning the federal minimum wage requires a person to work 102 hours/week to sustain housing. We are now living in a country where, in some places, the Housing Wage for a two-bedroom apartment is over $60,000 per year.

In such a reality, it’s little wonder that the lowest-income individuals and families are at real risk of experiencing homelessness.

Luckily, the solution is clear. The Alliance stands firmly besides NLIHC in their call for a greater investment in affordable housing. Homelessness – at it’s very root – stems from the inability to afford housing and therein lies the solution. With a sufficient supply of affordable housing, we can provide everyone a place to call home.

Many thanks to the NLIHC for this important report. For more information about the findings – and to see data on the Housing Wage and FMR in your community – check out their website.

21st April
written by naehblog

We need you to call your Senator today to ensure assistance providers have the funding they need to prevent and end homelessness.

Tomorrow is the last day Senators can sign on to the “Dear Colleague” letter asking the Senate T-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee to include $2.4 billion for the McKinney-Vento programs in the FY 2011 budget. In order for homelessness assistance programs across the country to continue their work and implement changes required by the HEARTH Act, $2.4 billion is critical.

Joined by the winners of the McKinney-Vento Letter-Writing Campaign (thanks for your support!), our advocacy team has been working hard to make sure McKinney-Vento programs are fully funded. Check out their lunchtime strategy session with our Director of Field Mobilization Sarah Kahn in the photo at right.

Anthony Stasi, a new addition to our staff, has also been talking to members of Congress about the importance of McKinney-Vento programs. He guest blogs about his Congressional visits below.

In the effort to influence the legislature to consider an increase in the HUD budget for fiscal year 2011, the Alliance has been actively informing members of both houses of the importance of the minimum funding necessary to keep new rapid re-housing programs running.

The current appropriation from the administration is $2.055 billion. While this is quite generous, the minimum needed to keep these programs solvent is $2.4 billion.

This is an interesting time on the Hill, as many ‘housing friendly’ members are eager to help and sign-on to letters addressed to committee chairs in order to secure these funds. Other members that might be considered ‘probables’ in this request are a little uncertain about any increases or earmarks (this is not an earmark, but members sometimes refer to it as such) in these economic times.

Offices in both houses have been extremely polite, with some more helpful than others. Even getting around the Hill is pleasant, once you get past removing belts, jackets, and clothing in order to get inside.

But as a great man once said; “the Dude abides.”

The programs that the Alliance (and many other non profits with an interest in homelessness) wants to keep running are programs that keep people from falling into homelessness, where there is a danger of individuals becoming chronically homeless. Chronically homeless people use a great deal of government services and the costs are absorbed by local communities and governments. These rapid re-housing programs save money in the long run, and that is why they are a priority to us.

Comments Off
20th April
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post is from our Senior Policy Analyst Norm Suchar.

The definition has been a controversial issue for many years, but Congress managed to achieve enough of a compromise to pass a homelessness bill last year, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, a.k.a. the HEARTH Act. The HEARTH Act made several changes to the definition, but, as is usually the case, it left some of the operational details to HUD, and HUD published its draft of those implementing regulations for comment this week.

We’re still analyzing the regulations, but on first read, they’re about what we expected. Currently, HUD considers people homeless if they are in one of the following situations:

1. Their nighttime residence is an emergency shelter, transitional housing program, or a place not meant for human habitation (e.g. car, sidewalk, park).

2. They are exiting an institutional setting where they resided for up to 30 days and immediately prior to entering the institution, they were living in a place not meant for human habitation or an emergency shelter.

3. They are in housing but are being evicted within the next 7 days and have no other place to go and no resources or support networks to obtain housing.

4. They are fleeing domestic violence and have no other place to go and no resources or support networks to obtain housing.

The new definition makes a few changes.

• It extends the time a person could be living in an institutional setting (number 2 above) to 90 days,

• It extends the amount of time prior to being evicted that a person would be considered homeless (number 3) to 14 days,

• And it creates a new category of homeless families with children or unaccompanied youth who have not lived independently for more than 90 days, have moved frequently (at least 3 times in the last 90 days) and have a disability or multiple barriers to employment that make it likely that they will continue to remain in an unstable situation.

These changes are most relevant for people who will now be considered homeless who weren’t before. They will be eligible for more assistance, particularly shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing programs. However, the programs will not grow in size to meet the new demand, so the overall number of people served won’t change.

Providers that operate HUD funded homeless assistance programs will also be affected. More people will be eligible for their programs, and they will have to collect different types of documentation. Overall, though, the effects will be modest.

The draft regulation is open for public comment for 60 days (until June 21). HUD will then issue the final regulations.

Comments Off