For EHV Programs, the Affordable Housing Crisis is a Big Challenge

Earlier this year, the Alliance sat down with Continuum of Care (CoC) representatives from across the country to discuss their efforts to implement the Emergency Housing Voucher (EHV) program.

The conversations revealed that efforts to use these valuable government resources were hampered by issues associated with the national affordable housing crisis. Nevertheless, communities wanted more EHVs available because they represent a meaningful chance to permanently house people who otherwise would have no hope of that type of stability.

The Search

The EHV program, which was included as part of the American Rescue Plan, operates similarly to Housing Choice Vouchers but targets a list of vulnerable populations that include people experiencing literal homelessness.

After communities received their allocations of EHVs and negotiated the program’s various bureaucratic steps, the search for affordable apartments began.

CoC representatives who participated in the Alliance’s focus groups described circumstances that match what is generally known about the nation’s housing markets. One of the focus group members put it very simply: “There are just not enough units.”

There have long been dramatic shortages of affordable, available, and adequate rental units, even before the pandemic. In 2019, there were 36 units available for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. Since then, demand for rental units has surged. By 2021, vacancy rates dropped to 5.8 percent, a low that hasn’t existed since the mid-1980s.

The focus groups identified additional complicating factors. According to one participant, “In your own market, you become your own competitor. You have clients competing for the same places.” Landlords also reject clients based on histories of eviction and/or justice system involvement. Some landlords just don’t want to work with Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) or deal with inspections that may lead to necessary renovations. And, finally, some clients reject landlords with dilapidated properties. Instead, they opt to just keep looking.

The Response

Communities are working with PHAs to address these challenges. Focus group participants identified a long list of approaches that are thoroughly outlined in the Alliance report, including:

  • Helping clients find housing (example: hiring new housing navigators)
  • Landlord engagement (examples: negotiating rental prices and limited-term leases)
  • Landlord incentives (example: lump sum payments upon lease signings)
  • Taking advantage of program flexibilities (example: paying more than typical amounts towards rent)

A Call for More Targeted Vouchers

One focus group participant summed up how many systems leaders view EHVs:

“That said I don’t want to sound all kinds of negative . . . [of the] people that we have housed, some of them have been experiencing homelessness for 5, 10 years. So there are big wins that otherwise wouldn’t have been provided except for with these EHV vouchers.”

Despite the challenges (and all the work that goes along with implementation), there is a demand for more chances to permanently house people who otherwise would be left behind. The Alliance’s report suggests a need for more vouchers targeting literally homeless people and other vulnerable populations. Congress and HUD can – and should – make this happen in ways that reflect the lessons learned from EHVs.