What Congress Can Do This Year: Part II, Active Legislation

The 116th Congress has been in session for just over five months, and there are already multiple signs of progress on issues related to homelessness.

There’s a reason Congress is motivated: the increases in unsheltered homelessness are startling. Many communities that are not normally thought of as having difficult housing markets are now struggling with rising rents. Combined with strong public opinion that the federal government needs to address these problems, Members of Congress from both parties are finally talking about affordable housing and homelessness.

In this three-part series, Alliance Vice President for Programs and Policy Steve Berg will analyze updates on homelessness and housing funding, active legislation to address homelessness, and current threats to our efforts to end homelessness.  This is the second post in the series.

Part 2: Active Legislation

Congress is increasingly discussing policy solutions for homelessness and homeless assistance programs. Several active bills would make a real difference in solving specific problems, making the system work better, and filling in the gaps in the homeless response system.

  • HUD-VASH eligibility – The HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program is exclusively for homeless veterans. Because of complicated rules set by Congress and the VA, there are homeless veterans with severe disabilities who need permanent supportive housing, but are not eligible for the HUD-VASH program. As HUD-VASH has become better funded, it makes no sense for these veterans to be excluded. Rep. Scott Peters from San Diego has introduced H.R. 2398, expanding eligibility to anyone who has served on active duty in the military and has not received a dishonorable discharge.
  • Fighting Homelessness Through Services and Housing Act – Diane Feinstein from California has introduced S. 923, which would create a program at the Health Resources Services Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services. Among other things, this program would be ideally suited to fund case management and system development, to bring together housing, health care, and other services funded by a range of programs in a community.
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – A version of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (H.R. 1585) has already passed the House. The House version fleshes out the requirement that housing and homelessness programs coordinate with each other in the same communities, ensuring survivors’ access to other housing should they leave housing due to domestic violence. Some unworkable provisions of earlier drafts have been replaced. However, its future in the Senate is uncertain; a strong push is under way to encourage the Senate to take it up.
  • Preventing homelessness among youth who age out of foster care – In the last Congress, a bipartisan consensus developed that youth aging out of foster care should be able to access affordable housing, even to the point of everyone in this situation receiving a voucher. To date no bill has been introduced on this topic, but conversations continue about the best mechanism for achieving housing stability for this extremely vulnerable group.

These bills represent an earnest effort by members of Congress to craft appropriate and effective responses to homelessness. We will continue to monitor their progress.