Now is a Critical Moment for PHAs in the Fight to End Homelessness

New Funding for Vouchers Appropriated in FY 2015

Due to the sequestration cuts in fiscal year (FY) 2013, about 100,000 fewer families had access to housing vouchers by June of 2014 compared to December 2012, according to speakers on a recent webinar held by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Prospects for 2016 Funding and Implications for Voucher Utilization.”

The lack of funding has put public housing authorities (PHAs), which are responsible for administering housing assistance, in a tight spot. PHAs have become reluctant to issue housing vouchers to families in need of assistance out of fear that they won’t be able to renew them. The good news is that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced that funding will be available this year to cover 100 percent of voucher renewal costs from calendar year 2014.

Furthermore, Congress approved supplemental funding in the FY 2015 appropriations bill to help renew any additional vouchers that agencies issued by the end of 2014 and leased up by early 2015. Details about how this set aside funding will be allocated were provided in a notice released by HUD on February 27.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the new funding should allow PHAs to restore in 2015 at least 30,000 additional vouchers that were lost due to sequestration, on top of renewing all vouchers issued in 2014, putting PHAs in a great position this year. For the sake of families who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness, they shouldn’t hold back.

The President’s Budget for 2016

At this point in time, the President’s proposed budget for FY 2016, which begins Oct. 1, 2015, is purely hypothetical, and Congress isn’t likely to approve it in its current form. Nevertheless, the Budget signals a commitment from the administration to ending homelessness and addressing the affordable housing crisis, and proposes specific funding levels for housing vouchers that would further that agenda.

The President’s budget for FY 2016 includes funding for 67,000 additional vouchers to fully restore the effects of sequestration, 30,000 of which would be targeted specifically to vulnerable populations including people experiencing homelessness. However, it is unlikely that Congress could fund all of these vouchers (and other housing proposals in the President’s budget) without passing legislation lifting the spending caps imposed by the sequestration provisions in the Budget Control Act of 2011. For a more detailed breakdown of the President’s budget, see this blog post: Here’s a Breakdown of Funding Levels for Homeless Programs in the President’s Budget.

Regardless of whether the President’s budget request for additional restoration vouchers comes to fruition, Congress has already demonstrated in previous years that it is committed to averting voucher terminations for families and renewing all vouchers in use.

WHY PHAs Should Issue Vouchers

If we want Congress to approve funding for housing vouchers in FY 2016, we need to show lawmakers that there is a great need for federal rental assistance. PHAs issuing vouchers signals this message to Congress, but they have a critical window in which to do so.

PHAs stand to benefit from issuing vouchers, but may be penalized if they fail to issue enough of them. The extent to which PHAs issue more vouchers in early 2015 will make a strong impact on the funding levels that Congress ultimately provides for FY 2016. PHAs with more vouchers that are under leases will receive higher levels of administrative fees and likely more renewal funding in FY 2016.

It is also possible that if PHAs don’t administer enough vouchers to make progress toward restoring housing vouchers lost through sequestration, Congress could even cut funding, especially for PHAs that have more than 6 to 8 percent of their funds in reserves.

Furthermore, if Congress does in fact approve funding for the 67,000 restoration vouchers that the President requested, the funding will likely be distributed among PHAs that have already effectively administered current vouchers.

How PHAs can help end Homelessness

PHAs can help the fight by making public housing assistance more accessible for persons experiencing homelessness. Right now, we lack the resources to reach the goals outlined in Opening Doors, the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Until Congress acts to provide those new resources, local communities must look to existing resources in their community, many available through PHAs.

Here is how PHAs can help communities end homelessness:

  1. Reduce screening criteria that creates barriers for homeless persons;
  2. Create a housing plan that reflects the need for housing for homeless groups ;
  3. Prioritize homeless persons on waitlists (e.g. using a limited-priority wait list);
  4. Work with the local Coordinated Entry System and Continuum of Care;
  5. Partner with service providers to enhance service, prevent evictions and identify those most in need;
  6. Partner with local Health Care for the Homeless organizations and School Systems; and
  7. Expand permanent supportive housing (PSH) capacity by issuing “Move Up” vouchers for people living in PSH who no longer need the intensive services, freeing up PSH for other persons in need.

Ending homelessness is a more elusive goal when your PHA is not at the table. Make sure your PHAs are informed of the needs of homeless persons in your community, how they can help, and how you can support your PHA in fully issuing vouchers to benefit those in need of housing.