Here’s How to Make Sure Your CoC Application is Housing First Focused

This post is the fifth in a series examining the Department of Housing and Urban Development's recently released Notice of Funding Availability for the Fiscal Year 2015 Continuum of Care Competition. You can find the full series here: FY 2015 CoC NOFA.

If you’re working on your application to the FY 2015 Continuum of Care competition you’ve probably noticed that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has placed a big emphasis on Housing First in this year’s Continuum of Care Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA).

With this NOFA, HUD is acknowledging that program barriers that exclude people from receiving help, or prolong their homelessness, are not a smart investment. It’s doing that by heavily incentivizing a low barrier, Housing First approach that will ensure people with the highest needs are not denied the help they need.

How is HUD incentivizing Housing First?

In the Consolidated CoC application, HUD is awarding:

  • 6 points if at least 75 percent of project applications submitted are low barrier; and
  • 6 points if at least 75 percent of permanent housing and 75 percent of transitional housing project applications submitted use the Housing First model.

Housing First is actually doubly incentivized this year, because project applications themselves can receive 10 points out of a total of 100 for committing to a Housing First approach.

How do we know if projects are Housing First or low barrier?

It is tempting to ask project applicants to provide a narrative explanation for how they have adopted Housing First and be done with it, but I urge you to spend a little more time on this. Housing First can mean many things to many people, so it is important to define exactly what you’re talking about so applicants understand the criteria.

The good news is you don’t have to start from scratch. I highly recommend USICH’s Housing First Checklist, and 100,000 Homes’ Shelter Eligibility Checklist (starts on Appendix A).

Next, the project ranking committee should review organizational policies and procedures to see how organizations have reduced barriers and are implementing Housing First. Projects should not have restrictive entry criteria such as sobriety or income requirements.

The number of people who are exited from the program for noncompliance with program rules should also be extremely minimal. In addition, a focus on permanent housing should be evident. Clients should not be required to complete classes or jump through extra hoops before they are re-housed.

What does this mean for transitional housing?

It seems paradoxical that transitional housing programs are included in HUD’s Housing First focus, but it is very much in line with recent communication from HUD. Earlier this year HUD signed on to a consensus document outlining an extremely limited role for long-term, congregate transitional housing.

Research shows transitional housing has the same outcomes as rapid re-housing but is more expensive. HUD is encouraging communities to use this more costly, service enriched intervention for people who need it the most, while shifting the focus to increasing exits to permeant housing and reducing the length of time people stay in transitional housing.

What’s next?

Finally, if organizations are agreeing to reduce barriers and adopt a Housing First approach during this NOFA process, it is important that the CoC follow up. One reason is to ensure those organizations followed through because it is very likely HUD will ask communities to verify this during the next NOFA. Another reason is to provide training and support to help organizations make this shift. Adopting a Housing First approach involves changing your organizational culture, and this is no easy task. It will, however, ensure that the people who need help the most are not left out in the cold.

Don’t forget the Alliance has a ton of resources and information on the 2015 CoC NOFA here!