by Jayme Day
Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) are talking about homelessness, and that’s a good thing!
I recently had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) national conference in New Orleans. The conference was an opportunity for PHAs from across the country to share their knowledge and practice. Here are some observations from the conference for homeless service providers to know:
PHAs are talking about ending homelessness.
There were more sessions at the conference about serving people experiencing homelessness than in past NAHRO conferences. This is good news! There were sessions on:
- How to be a “supportive housing authority”
- How to lower barriers to people with criminal records
- How to recruit and maintain relationships with landlords to house homeless households
- Improving the VASH program
- Housing First policy
PHAs can help create housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness. PHAs can:
- Create preferences where people experiencing homelessness are prioritized for public housing
- Project-base their vouchers. This means PHAs entice new development of housing by committing ongoing rent money to ensure the developments can serve low-income households.
But not all PHAs are talking about it.
Not all PHAs are making special efforts. A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study published in 2014 found that only 24% of PHAs are focusing any efforts on ending homelessness. There are many reasons for this and a few are that PHAs
- Don’t know about local homeless efforts
- Have fewer resources and more households to serve in recent years
- Are weary of violating Fair Housing by creating preferences
- Feel responsible to many populations
- Worry about having good supportive services for tenants who need more support
- Are trying to be good neighbors
CoCs and homeless service providers can help to mitigate these concerns.
CoCs and service providers can provide robust supportive services and help PHAs get on board with housing people experiencing homelessness. When PHAs were asked what made the difference when deciding whether to get more involved, many said that meeting the potential tenants helped convince them.
PHAs who are weary of housing tenants who need intensive supports can provide housing instead to people who are moving-on from Permanent Supportive Housing.
Another issue brought up in sessions was the need for more housing navigators and landlord recruitment. Tenants with housing vouchers need help locating housing in appropriate neighborhoods that have transportation and other amenities.
It was very encouraging to hear so many PHAs talk about contributing to efforts to end homelessness at the conference. Shout-out to all the great housing authorities who presented their great work to create preferences, supportive housing and other innovations at the conference, including: Houston PHA, Maine and Portland Maine PHAs, LA City and County PHAs, New York City PHA, Madison County Illinois PHA, Lane County Oregon Housing and Community Services Agency, New Orleans PHA, and many others!