12/05/2013 - Partnerships and Innovation: The Role of Housing Authorities in Ending Homelessness

By Sunia Zaterman, Executive Director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities

In 2010, James, an Army veteran, was experiencing chronic homelessness. Over the course of the year, his fifteenth without a home, he needed 54 ambulance rides, made 51 emergency room visits, and spent 34 days in jail. Then, as part of a United Way campaign called Project 25, St. Vincent de Paul Village chose him from a list of the highest users of public services in San Diego and helped him secure an apartment with a subsidy from the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC),. Today, James is stable and in recovery from alcoholism, keeping a regular schedule of appointments with doctors, a case manager, and a life-skills coach. By housing individuals like James, Project 25 has not only helped restore their health and dignity, but also saved the city more than $1.4 million to date.

Housing authorities, such as SDHC, have always assisted households previously experiencing or at risk of homelessness. By enabling extremely low-income households to afford their homes, the subsidies administered by housing authorities serve to prevent and end homelessness. On November 21, HUD reported a continued decline in homelessness between 2012 and 2013. The decline was seen across all subpopulations. For example, Veteran homelessness has declined by 24 percent since 2010. HUD credits this progress to the success of the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which is run through partnerships between housing authorities and VA Medical Centers.

Housing authorities are proud to serve Veterans who formerly experienced homelessness through the HUD-VASH program. But what I’ve learned in conversations with members of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA) is that they are also incredibly dedicated to doing much more to end homelessness in their communities. They are increasingly bringing their resources into partnerships with service providers to create permanent supportive housing, thinking about how to make their policies more accessible to those experiencing homelessness, and, where possible, investing in best practices such as Rapid Re-housing and new approaches such as sponsor-based vouchers.

Last summer, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Sandra Henriquez wrote to housing authorities about working to house individuals and families experiencing homelessness. According to their letter, “what HUD has learned from many PHAs is that partnering with community homeless providers to reduce barriers and strategically investing mainstream affordable housing resources has allowed many of you to advance your community’s efforts to end homelessness.” The letter states that housing authorities’ continued leadership is necessary to achieve the goals that the Administration set forth in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

CLPHA could not agree more that housing authorities play a key strategic role in this effort. Our new publication, Housing Authorities: Essential Partners in Ending Homelessness, which highlights seventeen of our members’ work in this arena, provides clear evidence of the difference that housing authorities can make. The publication is organized by the themes of Opening Doors, and we had no trouble finding examples of housing authorities across the country actively engaged in a wide variety of programs and partnerships. For example:

  • Houston Housing Authority and its partners consistently surpass their goals as part of the Housing Houston’s Heroes campaign, showing how they’ve Increased Leadership, Collaboration, and Civic Engagement.
  • The Housing Authority of Snohomish County has Increased Access to Stable and Affordable Housing for more than 1,000 formerly homeless families through its project-based voucher program.
  • The Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara has helped Increase Economic Security for residents of its Opportunity Center, with current residents averaging a 20 percent increase in income during their stay.
  • Oakland Housing Authority’s Sponsor-Based Housing Program Improves Health and Stability for persons coming from encampments or exiting the prison system, with 85 percent maintaining their housing for more than one year.
  • Oklahoma City Housing Authority has helped Retool the Homeless Crisis Response System in their city by changing their procedures to support the Housing First approach of 100,000 Homes OKC, through which they housed 48 percent of the city’s total chronically homeless population in just six months.

We hope that in reading this publication, you will be as impressed as we are by the commitment that housing authorities are showing to ending homelessness. We are grateful for resources that aid them in their efforts, such as USICH’s new PHA Guidebook and CSH’s PHA Toolkit.

CLPHA members know from experience that when local systems work together, outcomes for families and individuals living in poverty improve. Through partnerships and innovation, housing authorities and their local service providers are making great strides towards ensuring that everyone has a safe place to call home.

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