EHVs and Beyond: Fostering and Maintaining Collaboration Between CoCs and PHAs

Thanks to the new pandemic-related resource of Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs), many Continuums of Care (CoCs) have spent the past month rushing to get a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) out the door with a partner agency that you may only be just getting to know: your local public housing authority (PHA). But that MOU is just a necessary first step for implementing a smart and strategic roll-out of EHVs that really moves the needle on homelessness in your community.

Your partnerships with PHAs will not only ensure effective implementation of EHVs, but they can also serve as the foundation for helping communities achieve and maintain functional zero for all populations experiencing homelessness as the movement to fully fund low-income housing subsidies gains momentum.

The hard work begins now: HUD has advised that the MOUs may be “subsequently amended to add or change the services that the CoC may provide” to allow for long-term, sustainable, and impactful CoC/PHA partnerships. Continuing the work of these outlined commitments is essential to get as many people into permanent housing as possible.

Building on Past Success

Partnerships between federally-funded agencies are a newer approach, but they are a proven success when addressing homelessness. Nowhere do we see this more than in VA/CoC collaborations, which have effectively ended homelessness in 82 communities and 3 states. Thanks to the programs this collaboration has advanced – like HUD-VASH and SSVF – we know that challenges in work styles, priorities, administrative requirements, and cultures can be overcome with adequate, dedicated funding and a focus on shared missions.

Guiding Principles of Partnership

As you begin to build and maintain your CoC/PHA partnership, keep these guiding principles in mind.

  1. Find language that frames your common goals. For example, both homelessness systems and PHAs are dedicated to housing, though they may work with different kinds of people who need different types of housing. If you haven’t already done the work to develop common mission language, begin having regular conversations now to hash that out. Look at each of your organization’s foundational documents and find the similarities. Focus on these shared missions while keeping the ultimate goal in mind: getting people into housing.
  2. Make a safe space for honest conversations about each agency’s concerns regarding EHV implementation and cross-agency partnerships. A safe space in this context means being willing to really listen to the other agency’s concerns, and then making a commitment to find potential solutions to overcome those barriers. Make sure that these spaces include the voices of people with lived experience of homelessness and those who are already being served by PHAs. They have important perspectives on how these (often administrative) barriers to partnership play out in real life for the people who can most benefit from effective cross-agency collaboration.
  3. Clearly define each agency’s roles, strengths, assets, and external relationships they can bring to the partnership. This should be specifically in the context of EHV implementation, and for addressing affordable housing and homelessness more broadly in the community. In the case of EHV implementation, this exercise should emphasize things like housing navigation, landlord engagement, and service connections, as well as additional community partnerships that can be leveraged to improve outcomes for people in CoC- or PHA-funded housing. It should also include (ongoing) trainings on how each agency works, an explanation of their different funding streams and requirements (HUD field offices can be a big help on this!), and what the possibilities for flexibility and waivers are on those requirements (HINT: There are lots of them with pandemic-related funding!).

Ultimately, while we know that our work within one agency or program is difficult – especially during the devastating crises of homelessness, racism, and COVID-19 – the even more difficult work of cross-agency collaboration is truly needed to move the needle on homelessness in this country. Let us take inspiration from the tremendous progress we’ve made on veteran homelessness and the example of existing productive CoC/PHA collaborations. With committed partnerships, we can move forward with courage on EHVs and beyond to build these partnerships and actually end homelessness for all!

This blog post is part of the Using Federal Resources series, which provides key takeaways for communities to best use federal funds to end homelessness.


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