Archive for June, 2010

15th June
2010
written by naehblog

Today the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University released their annual State of the Nation’s Housing report – an assessment of the American housing market for the past year.

Overall, the report offered mixed news. In the executive summary – entitled, “The Fledgling Recovery”—the report noted that the economy has started to show indications of a recovering housing market, including increased employment rates and reduced house prices. The report is also careful to note, however, that strength in the housing market will heavily depend on a recovery in the unemployment rate, which is currently holding steady at just under 10 percent.

While the big picture offered some interesting insights, what was most striking in the report [at least for us] was the state of affordable housing for low-income households. The picture may look mixed for the majority of Americans – but the outlook is notably less rosy for low-income households.

It starts with the rental market. Most low-income households are renters and the report definitively states that the supply of low-cost rental housing continues to decline. In fact, housing units considered affordable for those earning the federal minimum wage – rents of $400/month or less – declined by 244,000 units in 2007.

At the same time, the number of renters rose over the last year, in some part because of the pressures in the homeowners market. A significant portion of that of that increase is attributed to minority and immigrant households though the report also notes that elderly renter households will rise dramatically – by more than 3 million – as the baby boomer generation ages.

But the real story is in cost-burdened households.

The percentage of Americans living with severe housing cost burden (paying 50 percent or more of their monthly income on rent) stayed at a steady 12 percent for two decades – from 1980 to 2000. In 2008, that percentage shot up by a third to 16 percent. According to the report, a record 18.6 million households faced severe housing cost burdens this year – an increase of 4.7 million since 2001.

Sadly, the group most affected by severe housing cost burden is single-parent families with children. These households require more – more space, safer neighborhoods, better schools – but are restricted by a single-income. In 2008, half of low-income single-parent households spent 63 percent of their monthly income on housing. Minority households often spent more.

The story doesn’t improve from there. The housing report goes on to highlight other challenges presented to low-income and cost-burdened households. It’s a song that’s been sung before: affordable housing grows scarcer and scarcer and real incomes stay ever more stagnant.

Perhaps the most resonating message from this section of the report, however, is the rigid persistence of housing cost burdens over the years. Many economic indicators fluctuate; there are often breaks in data reflecting changes in the financial market, world events, or a shift in industry.

This is not the case for severe housing cost burden. Since the 1960s, the report notes, housing cost burden for the bottom income quartile has only become more and more severe.

The connection to homelessness couldn’t be clearer: as individuals and families struggle to cope with an ever-bleaker affordable housing landscape, the risk of homelessness grows. In order to prevent and reduce homelessness, we must – with great urgency – address the clearly critical need for more affordable housing.

For the full report, please visit the Joint Center for Housing Studies website. For more information about the relationship between homelessness and housing, please visit ours.

11th June
2010
written by naehblog

It’s been a week of local news about homelessness – local plans, NIMBYism all across the country, and community efforts to confront housing.

In Tempe, Arizona, there’s a project underway to target chronic homelessness – the Temple Pilot Project funded by the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing fund. The effort is part of Maricopa County’s effort to reduce homelessness by a notable 75 percent by 2020.

In Johnson County, Missouri, a more nascent effort is underway. Johnson County is seeking applicants to serve on a task force to find solutions – both long-term and immediate strategies to service people experiencing homelessness. Five representatives are expected to be selected and a report of finding and recommendations is due in early 2011.

News is less positive in other communities – NIMBYism seems to be a strong theme in some communities across the country. In Tulsa, OK and Dallas, TX, community members are strongly protesting the construction of a permanent supportive housing building and low-income housing complex. Despite calls from advocates to demonstrate support for their most vulnerable friends and neighbors, riled residents are thus far compromising progress.

From Colorado, there was a great article explaining how a community effort to end homelessness is not just a moral issue, but an important economic issue. The article goes on to discuss how Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper presented his case at the 2010 United Way Community Luncheon and extolled the virtues of the community Road Home program, Denver’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.

And while we’re on that note, that’s something that’s been trickling into our thoughts and minds this week – the Ten Year Plan. In 2000, the Alliance launched the idea of a Ten Year Plan – an innovative, community-based strategy to end homelessness. At it’s anniversary, we’re taking a moment to see where we’ve been, evaluate where we are, and decide where to go next. While homelessness continues to persist in our country, there’s little question that we’ve come a long way and now – confronted with 21st century challenges – we’re considering our next steps.

What do you think they should be? Let us know!

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10th June
2010
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post comes from Whitney Gent of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

Even though she had been paying her rent on time, Beverly, a resident of a rental property in Ohio, came home one weekend last year to find her apartment had been padlocked, and her belongings removed. She didn’t know the building was in foreclosure, and its new owners had illegally evicted her. Forced to stay with relatives, as even her bed had been taken, Beverly became another victim of the foreclosure crisis.

Unfortunately, Beverly is not alone. Estimates show that 40 percent of families facing foreclosure-related eviction are not owners, but low-income renters.

In February 2009, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Low Income Housing Coalition issued a report entitled Without Just Cause: A 50-State Review of the (Lack of) Rights of Tenants in Foreclosure. The report revealed that most states’ laws provided virtually no protections for tenants in properties that were the subject of foreclosure actions. Indeed, only two – New Jersey and the District of
Columbia – provided that tenant leases survived foreclosure.

Thanks in part to this research, the federal government has taken action to protect renters like Beverly. The Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA) was signed into law by President Obama in May of last year, and it affords tenants unprecedented federal protections – including the right to 90-days notice prior to eviction or, in many cases, the right to stay in their home until the end of their lease. These protections can be the key to homelessness prevention for some families.

States are stepping up, too. Since the release of that report, 16 states have enacted new laws to protect tenants’ rights, and 21 have legislation currently pending. These actions are especially important because PTFA carries with it a 2012 sunset provision, and because the federal law does not negate stronger state protections.

But much more remains to be done. The Law Center’s new report, Staying Home: The Rights of Renters Living in Foreclosed Properties, shows that renters’ rights are still being violated across the country. New property owners (often banks) are still sometimes failing to inform or misleading renters about their rights, or even illegally evicting them. Federal and state regulators must get more involved to curb these trends, exercising their oversight of banks and working to ensure compliance with the law. And we advocates must hold these entities accountable.

We invite you to check out Staying Home, and to visit www.homelessnesslaw.org for more on related topics.

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9th June
2010
written by naehblog

A short while ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released a report on “Worst Case Housing Needs.”

According to HUD, a person or household is experiencing worst case needs when:

  • they’re paying 50 percent of more of their monthly income on rent (also called “severe housing cost burden,”
  • they’re living in severely substandard housing conditions,
  • or both.

Highlights of the report confirm the critical need to continue investing in affordable housing:

  • In 2007, 5.9 million households – nearly 13 million people – experienced worst case needs.
  • This number is a marginal increase from 2006.
  • In general, worst case needs are experienced by “extremely low-income” families (families earning less than 30 percent of the area median income). 93 percent of the 5.9 million households were extremely low income. 7 percent were “very low-income” households, making 30 to 50 percent of area median income (AMI).
  • The report reflects data from 2007 and does not take into account the effects of the current recession. In a press release, HUD expected the effects of the recession to be reflected in the next report.

While those took care of the headline themes of the report, there were other pieces of information that painted a fuller picture.

Though “worst case needs” is defined by severe housing cost burden, severely substandard housing, or both, it was the severe housing cost burden that was the primary cause of worst case needs. Of the 5.91 million households counted, 5.48 cited severe rent burden as their sole problem.

Among the households examined – families with children, disabled households, elderly households, and “other” – disabled households were most likely to experience worst case needs. Eldery households were the second most likely to experience worst case needs. Elderly households are also at higher risk for severe housing cost burden.

Nearly half of the households with children that experienced worst case needs were working full-time (or the equivalent) and making at least minimum wage.

Reports like this reiterate the need to understand the importance of economic indicators to homelessness – and there exist economic indicators of homelessness, including housing affordability, severe housing cost burden, and doubling-up. And what this report suggests is decreasing housing affordability is directly linked to an increased risk of homelessness. And if that is the case – and it is – than increasing housing affordability contributes to a decreased risk of homelessness. Which falls right in line with what we know at the Alliance: housing is the solution to homelessness.

What’s heartening is that we aren’t the only ones who know. In their press release, HUD affirms that the results of the report indicate a strong need to continue to invest in affordable housing. Likewise, the Administration’s FY2011 proposed budget also indicates an investment in affordable housing, prevention and rapid re-housing strategies for those experiencing and at-risk of homelessness, and a commitment to the National Housing Trust Fund.

For more information about homelessness and housing-related studies and legislation, please visit our website!

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7th June
2010
written by naehblog

The last time we wrote about it, the Tax Extenders bill passed the House.

Next stop: the U.S. Senate.

Senate leaders are hoping to start debate on the bill as soon as tomorrow! and could vote on the bill this week!.

You can’t stop now when we’re so close! We need your senators to vote for H.R. 4213.

What you can DO

  • Call the housing staffer in your Senators’ offices today. Congressional office phone numbers can be found by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
  • Urge the housing staffer to continue their support for preventing and ending homelessness in your community by voting YES on H.R. 4213 and making sure funding for the NHTF and extension of the TANF ECF are included in the bill.
  • Let us knowhow it turned out! Contact Amanda Krusemark – and let us know who you contacted and what they said so we know who to target in the future!

Remember:

The Tax Extenders bill includes capitalization for the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) and extends the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) – both critical programs in reducing and ending homelessness in the United States. In fact, synchronizing housing and services has shown to be the most effective way to end a person’s homelessness and lead them towards stability. For more background on these programs, check out our old blogposts.

Thanks in advance to ALL our supporters – let’s do it!

4th June
2010
written by naehblog

This is my last Friday news roundup at the Alliance. I’ve been really inspired by all the fantastic work that’s happening, both locally and at the federal level, and I’m so glad I got to help spread the word. Hearing stories from community across the country has made me believe that ending homelessness really is possible.

Catherine’s back at the helm of the About Homelessness blog and soon she’ll be joined by a NEW new media intern. Thanks for reading!

Memorial Day brought some attention to veterans experiencing homelessness. An in-depth piece from the Arizona Star takes a look at the divide between the VA’s plan to end homelessness within 5 years and the attitudes of some vets who are chronically homeless.

Change.org’s Poverty in America blog features Swords and Plowshares, a facility that combines housing and services to get former soldiers back on their feet.

The Corporation for Supportive Housing’s Deborah DeSantis shares a recent report that shows there are three times more mentally ill people in jail than in hospitals. The solution is not only humane, but cost-effective: Permanent Supportive Housing.

Speaking of cost-effectiveness, the Providence Journal discussed the benefits of the Housing First model by telling the story of Bill Victoria, who was homeless for 30 years before finally finding stable housing: “I thought I’d be homeless forever,” he says.

Not so.

About the Housing First approach, Eric Hirsch, a sociology professor at Providence College, says:

It’s definitely cost-effective, especially for people who have been homeless for a long time. This is how you end homelessness.

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3rd June
2010
written by naehblog

So you’re joining hundreds of advocates, policymakers, and service providers from across the country, heading to DC for our National Conference on Ending Homelessness. You’re excited to learn about everything from creating a rapid re-housing system to accessing mainstream services, from the latest in federal policy to employment strategies for your clients.

That’s not all: you also have the opportunity to make your voice heard in Congress. Conference participants are invited to participate in our annual Hill Day, where you’ll educate members of Congress about homelessness in your community and encourage them to take action to end homelessness.

We know what works in the fight against homelessness, and as constituents, we need to tell Congress is that we have proven strategies. With our experiences and strategies in hand, we can share our policy priorities with our Congressional Representatives:

  • Provide $2.4 billion in FY 2011 for HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants Program.
  • Fund 200,000 new Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers in FY 2011, including 10,000 new HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers, and 10,000 vouchers for the Administration’s proposed Housing and Services for Homeless Persons Demonstration.
  • Provide $120 million for SAMHSA Homeless Services Programs in FY 2011, including $15.8 million for the Administration’s proposed Housing and Services Demonstration.
  • Provide $165 million in FY 2011 for Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs, with the full $50 million increase targeted at the Transitional Living Program.
  • Pass the Zero Tolerance for Veterans Homelessness Act (S. 1547).

YOU are the most effective advocate for your community and it’s important that Members of Congress hear what’s happening on the ground. This is your chance.

If you want to join up, email akrusemark@naeh.org and she’ll connect you with the state captain for your state, who will work with you through the Hill Day process.

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2nd June
2010
written by naehblog

The Homelessness Research Institute (HRI) recently released the second installment of the Quarterly Leadership Council HPRP Report.

To recap: HRI is tracking the use of federal stimulus-funded Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing funds (HPRP). The objective of the project is to determine how cities are using this new funding source and how effective communities are at turning dollars into real, measurable improvement.

In the first quarterly report, we saw that:

  • Family homelessness was up slightly (6 percent) in the 11 reporting communities
  • Collectively, the 11 reporting communities spent approximately $10.4 million on HPRP financial assistance and housing relocation – this is just over 6 percent of their total grant allocation.
  • Collectively, there is slight emphasis on prevention over rapid re-housing with wide variation among communities. San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle heavily emphasize prevention while Columbus and Denver focus on rapid re-housing.
  • To date, about 7 percent of households projected to be served by prevention programs had been served by December 2009. That number rises to 8 percent for households projected to be served by rapid re-housing programs for the same timeframe. Of the communities, New York has served notably more.
  • Collectively, the 11 reporting communities saved/created approximately 505 full-time jobs my December 2009 with HPRP funds.

For the 2-page report – as well as a list of all participating communities – please find the report online.

Now on to the second.
In the second report, we included two cities not originally in the first: New Orleans, LA and Washington, D.C.

There were a couple notable changes in the second report, though it’s important to take into account the added cities:

  • This quarter’s report shows that approximately 2/3 of HPRP funding has been allocated for prevention activities. Of the participating cities, San Francisco, Miami, New Orleans, and New York heavily emphasize prevention while Columbus and D.C. focus on rapid re-housing.
  • And on that note, collectively, the 13 communities are using 56 percent of their funding for direct financial assistance while the remaining 44 percent are being used on housing relocation services. Of the cities, only New York is using less than half of it’s allocation for direct financial assistance.
  • This quarter, the 13 cities created/saved 680 full-time jobs.

Now on to the really good stuff. It gets a little confusing, but hang in there.

  • Of the 15,869 people that have exited from prevention programs to date, at least 11,754 (74 percent) have exited to permanent housing. Of the 18,969 that have exited from rapid re-housing services, at least 18,642 (97 percent) exited to permanent housing.
  • Through March 2010 approximately $16 million has been spent on homelessness prevention or 39,000 in the 13 communities. About $5.5 million has been spent to rapidly re-house 23,000 people.
  • 13 percent of prevention funds and 8 percent of rapid re-housing funds have been used to date and several cities – including Miami, Portland, Philadelphia, and Ne York – are using their funds very quickly.

So what does this all mean?

While we’re still drawing conclusion about the data set thus far, there are some things that are clearly emerging.

In the first quarterly report, we saw that some communities were still preparing to allocate and use their HPRP funds – in the second quarter, we saw that all communities were serving people.

Another point worth discussing is the use of these HPRP funds. Note the breakdown of funds used for financial assistance and housing relocation – it’s about half and half. This information suggests that people are using HPRP funds to assist people into permanent housing without providing a rent subsidy. These activities can range far and wide – service providers can negotiations with landlords, some may offer legal services, some may connect at-risk people with families, some may assist clients through the maze of resources available. While some people are receiving rent subsidies through the HPRP program, it’s important to note that these other services are playing a critical role in preventing and end homelessness as well.

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1st June
2010
written by Sam Batko

Last week there was a blog post in the Washington Post about Fairfax County, VA and the great work they’re doing using HPRP funds to prevent homelessness. To date, over 600 people have evaded homelessness in Fairfax.

The success in Fairfax County prompted some curiosity and excitement about the work being done there.

As a member of the Capacity Building Center at the Alliance, I’ve worked in Fairfax County to support their community leaders’ efforts to achieve this great success. For the last 18 months, the Alliance has worked to help the County transform their homeless assistance system into a Housing First/Rapid Re-housing model that focuses on housing-oriented strategies.

Fairfax County covers 395 square miles and has a population of over one million residents. With an Annual Median Income (AMI) of over $100,000, you might think that homelessness wouldn’t be a huge issue for the county – but high rental prices and low vacancy rates make the house-hunt hard for low-income families.

At the last point-in-time count, conducted on January 27, 2010, there were 1,544 people experiencing homelessness.

Luckily, the County’s taking action.

In 2007, the County approved the proposed Ten Year Plan to end homelessness; an implementation plan was completed in March 2008. The plan called for the creation of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness and has since formed a Governing Board responsible for overseeing the progress towards the goal of ending homelessness by the end of 2018.

Ten task groups of dedicated stakeholders from across the community were formed to create specific work plans on different elements of the plan – those elements included intake and assessment, discharge planning, housing location, and transitional housing conversion. The task groups also work to define best practices, asking what works well in the community, how things can be changed to work more effectively, and how to codify those ideas into procedure manuals and trainings.

As for me, I served as a co-chair on the intake and assessment task group. In that role, my co-chairs and I convened a group of nonprofit and public stakeholders, including shelter, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing staff as well as representatives from the Sheriff’s department, the County health department, and the department of family services.

Together, we examined the existing intake process and then developed a new assessment process focused on collecting housing and income-specific information from families and individuals. The new process helps caseworkers focus on housing as the primary solution to homelessness, move families and individuals through the intake process more efficiently, and creates a continuity of care so that all clients can be assured of receiving the same quality of services no matter where they access services.

And then, while all of the task groups were diligently planning for system-wide changes, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program was announced.

The federal program was both a blessing and a burden. With improvements to the County’s homelessness system already being plotted, planning meetings for HPRP would only add another layer to the carefully considered strategy. Moreover, the County determined that much of the task groups’ work would need to be in place to most effectively use the new HPRP funds – adding a stricter deadline to the existing workload.

Still, thanks to the dedication and commitment of community leaders and key stakeholders, Fairfax County is using the HPRP funds to jumpstart their systems change process in addition to preventing and ending homelessness for its most vulnerable citizens.

I’ve been lucky enough to bear witness to the community’s great success. Fairfax County’s story demonstrates that real change is possible in the homeless assistance system and, that together, we can end homelessness.

This, after all, is what ending homelessness looks like.

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