USICH Blog

11/14/2013 - Grit & Ingenuity: Necessary Ingredients

I recently was honored to write the foreword to a new publication, Public Housing Authorities: Essential Partners in Efforts to End Homelessness, from the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA). In it, I noted the two words that capture public housing agencies approach to the work of ending homelessness: grit and ingenuity. I’ve witnessed this grit and ingenuity when public housing agency leaders make bold commitments and stand behind them, tackle bureaucratic and political hurdles, and come up with innovative solutions and partnerships to make housing available for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. 

You see this grit and ingenuity in the Fresno Housing Authority, when, even in a time of scarce resources, they set a limited preference to ensure that the most vulnerable people experiencing chronic homelessness received priority for housing assistance. You see it exhibited in the Houston Housing Authority’s bold commitment to provide 1,000 project-based vouchers to create permanent supportive housing. It’s that combination of grit and ingenuity that led the District of Columbia Housing Authority to forge an innovative partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the DC city government, and local service provider organizations. Through this partnership, they used the HUD-VASH program to provide housing linked to services for the most vulnerable Veterans experiencing homelessness.

Now more than ever, we need the grit, ingenuity, and leadership of public housing agencies in our effort to end homelessness in America. Opening Doors, the Federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, guides the work of USICH in partnership with the 19 Federal agencies that comprise the Council. But so much of the work of ending homelessness happens at the community level, through partnerships between homeless services providers, Continuum of Care leaders, municipal and State governments, philanthropy, community and business leaders, and public housing agencies. These local partnerships drive significant progress towards ending homelessness.

Make no mistake: we still have a long way to go and much work ahead of us to reach our goals. And adding to our challenge is the extraordinarily difficult budgetary and political climate in which we now operate. As public housing agencies are well aware, Federal resources for affordable housing—the cornerstone of the Federal strategy to end homelessness—have shrunk due to budget cuts and sequestration. Meanwhile, despite compelling evidence that investing in affordable and supportive housing is cost-effective for low-income households, including people experiencing homelessness, the current political climate is too often not the most conducive to reasoned, evidence-informed policy arguments.  Nonetheless, we know additional Federal, State, local and philanthropic strategic investments in public housing agencies and their partners is needed to expand the supply of affordable and permanent supportive housing. 

I remain firm in my conviction that we can end homelessness in America. Getting there also entails leveraging every available resource—Federal, State, local, and philanthropic—to provide affordable housing and permanent supportive housing to individuals and families experiencing homelessness. It requires the continued leadership and commitment of public housing agencies everywhere. It requires that those of us who work in the Federal government, provide the support that public housing agencies need so that they can adopt the policy changes and programs that increase housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness.

To that end, USICH has just launched the PHA Guidebook to Ending Homelessness, an online set of tools that covers such topics as preferences, admissions policies, project-based vouchers, and participation in Continuum of Care planning efforts. We hope this can help communities everywhere to join with public housing agencies to mobilize their resources and make the case for new resources.

From where I sit, the road ahead appears bumpy. Grit and ingenuity are key ingredients in the “recipe for success” to ensure all Americans have a stable place to call home.

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