Federal Surplus Real Property
The purpose of Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is to provide suitable federal properties (land or buildings) categorized as unutilized, underutilized, excess or surplus for use to assist with homelessness. Properties are made available on an “as-is” basis. Properties are leased without charge, although the homeless organization must pay for operating and repair costs. Leases may be from 1 year to 20 years. Surplus properties may also be deeded to the organization. Properties can be used to provide services such as job training or child-care center, storage, emergency, transitional and/or permanent housing, and any other activity that clearly meets an identified need of people experiencing homelessness.
Three federal agencies–HUD, HHS and GSA–have a role in operating the program. HUD reviews information submitted by the original federal agency owners of the properties and determines whether the properties appear “suitable” for use to assist homeless persons. Properties are generally considered suitable unless they are near flammable or explosive material, are within an airport runway area or a floodway, have documented deficiencies such as being seriously affected by another environmental hazard, are structurally damaged or extensively deteriorated, are in an area secured for national defense, or are inaccessible.
Each week, HUD publishes a notice in the Federal Register with information about the properties that have been identified by federal landholding agencies as unutilized, underutilized, excess or surplus. The Federal Register publication indicates which suitable properties are available and which are not, and which properties are unsuitable. At the end of the calendar year 2011, HUD had approximately 12,227 properties on its list, of which 1,507 had been determined “suitable” as facilities to assist the homeless.
Barriers to Access
Under Title V, the process for identifying properties, determining suitability, determining availability by landholding agencies, and leasing or deeding surplus properties involves at least three federal agencies and can appear quite confusing and cumbersome to homeless providers. For example, because of the wide latitude in the suitability standard, a clear majority of the properties HUD finds “suitable” are not actually practical for homeless assistance because they are in remote areas or have other limitations that make them unattractive to homeless providers. About 95 percent of the properties are military, most of which are located on bases that are not convenient to people experiencing homelessness. Nearly all buildings that are available need renovation and providers often do not have sufficient funds to make the needed repairs. In some cases, local opposition to the use of the property by homeless providers (“NIMBY”) has caused providers to withdraw their applications.
Efforts to Increase Participation by Homeless Persons or Homeless Providers
To assist homeless providers, HUD has established a toll-free “hotline” that is used to provide information on properties and answer questions about the program. HUD has also directed local HUD field staff to be the point of contact for homeless providers interested in obtaining surplus federal properties. Although they cannot reduce the number of steps necessary to put the properties to use, local HUD staff does provide information and technical assistance concerning the inventory and process. The offices maintain mailing lists for distributing lists of suitable properties that are published in the Federal Register. As the point of contact for other homeless assistance programs, local HUD staff are also able to suggest ways of coordinating Title V with other federal, state, local, and private homeless assistance programs.