This is the second in a series of blog posts from the Alliance's Capacity Building Center to help prepare your community for this year’s NOFA. Read the first post here.
Once again, NOFA season is just around the corner!
One of the more anxiety-producing aspects of recent NOFAs is the requirement that Continuums of Care (CoCs) rank projects in the CoC Priority Listing section of the application. As a refresher, in recent years, CoCs have had to prioritize new and renewal projects by dividing them into two tiers, which may jeopardize funding for lower-ranked projects. Though we don’t yet know exactly what Tier 1 and 2 will look like until this year’s NOFA comes out, we know that this “CoC Priority Listing” will be a requirement of the 2015 application and that reallocation is available.
As you apprehensively await HUD's 2015 CoC NOFA, here are some steps you can take to prepare your CoC for the important process of ranking projects based on their performance.
Why is this so important?
Ranking projects based on performance encourages CoCs to right-size their systems so that precious community resources are used in the most strategic way possible. Reviewing project performance achieves this by allocating funds to projects that effectively reduce homelessness and create more permanent housing capacity.
One of HUD’s top policy priorities is strategic resource allocation, which includes “the comprehensive review of projects” and reallocation of funds to projects that reduce homelessness. This is why it’s critical that your CoC develop an objective and performance-based ranking process now. If your CoC hasn’t established or begun this process, you should get started right away!
Ranking projects can be a difficult and politically fraught process, but by beginning the process and communicating scoring expectations to stakeholders as early as possible, it can be far less painful and time-consuming come application time. More importantly, it will make your CoC much more successful in ending homelessness.
CoCs should also determine their reallocation priorities well before the NOFA application opens and consider developing a CoC spending plan. (In our next blog post, I will discuss reallocation and the best ways to prepare new applications for rapid re-housing projects.)
How should your CoC develop an objective and performance-based ranking process?
Task the development of a fair and transparent review and rank process to a group that understands the CoC’s overall strategic priorities and is primarily made up of members that do not receive CoC funding to ensure that the process is unbiased, such as:
- The CoC Governance Board;
- A CoC committee; or
- A neutral entity that is familiar with the evaluation and monitoring of homeless services.
When CoCs don’t have an objective ranking process, stakeholders in existing projects can influence which projects get funded, and there is little opportunity to shift resources to more effective projects.
- Develop scoring criteria, related tools, and a local application that aligns with the CoC’s strategic spending priorities and the goals in Opening Doors.
- Solicit input from stakeholders from the beginning; once the scoring criteria and application process is finalized, CoCs should inform CoC-funded projects and potential new applicants so they can start collecting the data they need for the application.
- Establish a panel of non-conflicted and knowledgeable stakeholders that will review, score, and rank projects.
- Prepare to engage in an appeals process, if needed.
Here are some other communities’ processes, applications, and scoring criteria that you can adapt to your CoC:
- Sacramento, CA
- Las Vegas/Southern Nevada
- Alliance Performance Review and Ranking of Projects Toolkit
Which scoring criteria do we use?
In the past, many CoCs have renewed projects without reviewing their performance in a meaningful way or given money to new projects without analyzing if they are responding to the CoC’s needs. Now, because funding is not always guaranteed for all projects, CoCs should be prioritizing projects that help them reduce homelessness by quickly and cost-effectively permanently housing people.
Understandably, this can be challenging for a CoC, which may be concerned about protecting existing projects. When making cuts, a CoC should assess what the impact will be and then determine whether there are other ways to fund these existing projects with other community dollars.
Here are some scoring criteria you might consider using to evaluate projects:
Does the project prioritize the most vulnerable populations?
- To achieve better outcomes in the future, CoCs will have to focus on helping homeless households who are the most likely to remain homeless if they don’t receive assistance, particularly those who lack incomes and who have experienced longer or more frequent episodes of homelessness.
How well is the project performing in achieving outcomes?
- Rate of exits to permanent housing: For Permanent Housing and Transitional Housing, projects should at least meet the HUD goal of 80 percent housed at exit
- Increasing/maintaining income or connecting clients to educational opportunities
- Connecting clients to mainstream benefits
- Housing stability
- Reducing average length of stay/homelessness
Has the project improved its services in the past year?
- Inclusion of consumer feedback
- Resolution past monitoring findings
Does the project have strong HMIS participation and data quality?
Does the project have a budget that makes sense?
- Cost-effectiveness: Appropriate based on difficulty of population served, capacity, and number of permanent housing exits
Does the project fully participate in the CoC’s Coordinated Entry System?
Does the project coordinate effectively?
- Participation in CoC meetings and workgroups
- Coordination with other entities in the community
Does the project contribute towards goals and activities in the CoC’s strategic plan or 10 year plan?
If it is a new project, is it proposing a project that aligns with the CoC’s needs, fills a gap in services, or shows good past performance in other projects?
What Not to Do
Don’t apply across-the-board cuts to all your projects. Although this is sometimes easiest to do, there are several problems with this method.
In the past, HUD has expressed great concern over communities that applied an even percentage cut to all programs. Consequently, CoCs who do go with this option are likely to lose points for not having an objective ranking and selection process. The Alliance also strongly discourages CoCs from doing this because it’s not a strategic or performance-based way to prioritize funds, and CoCs will miss out on the opportunity to achieve an improvement to the CoC’s system-wide performance that will help in future applications.
Don’t implement a secretive or unclear evaluation or selection process. Involve your CoC members and stakeholders and train recipients on what they should expect when it comes to the evaluation of the performance of projects.
Don’t leave it to your CoC-funded projects to decide the scoring criteria. They can be involved in providing input, but shouldn’t be making decisions on how their own projects will be scored. (I mentioned this earlier in the blog post, but it bears repeating.)
Stay tuned to the Alliance blog for future info on preparing your CoC for the upcoming NOFA. If you have any questions or ideas you want to share, comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.