What’s New in the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO)

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the Continuum of Care (CoC) program. For people who work on homelessness, this release has come to mark the beginning of an annual period of intense work, with each community trying to get the best possible share of the resources from the federal government’s largest homelessness program.

This year, of course, is different.

The intensity of the pandemic has been a constant for one thing, for the past 17 months. It’s important that this process be managed in a way that preserves everyone’s mental health.

The other piece is the opportunity. Because of public focus on homelessness in many places, because of extensive financial resources in addition to the CoC, and because of scoring criteria that puts a focus on coordination with these other resources, this competition is set up to encourage communities to pull together a systemic, strategic effort to greatly reduce homelessness.

Breaking Down the NOFO

First, the money. This NOFO (not a typo: the name has been changed from “Notice of Funding Availability” to “Notice of Funding Opportunity”) includes enough money to fund all existing programs, or, if the community chooses, to reallocate some of the money to better programs. It also includes bonus money for building a better response to the housing needs of people made homeless by domestic violence, and a “CoC bonus” allowing communities to apply for new programs (up to a 5 percent add-on) to address each community’s priorities. (Thank you to everyone who joined the Alliance in convincing Congress to put more money in this program – by more than $350 million!)

This year’s NOFO comes in a unique context of other funding: large amounts of one-time money that Congress has made available outside of the Continuum of Care for homeless services, for vouchers targeted to addressing homelessness, for property acquisition for new housing, and for health care and for other services directed toward or available for the needs of people who are homeless or have recently left homelessness.

The NOFO makes it clear through its scoring criteria: communities will be rewarded for using this process to coordinate all these resources into strategic work.

Results Matter: System Design and the NOFO

The other key message from the NOFO is designing systems in a manner that gets results. It’s important to consult everyone involved in a homelessness system, beginning with people who have experienced homelessness, as well as people who have experienced the kind of discrimination that is a cause of homelessness. Health care (including behavioral health) and public housing agencies must be part of the conversation. The NOFO clearly endorses Housing First policy. It also focuses on addressing the impacts of COVID-19, as well as ensuring that help is available to people who are most likely to be homeless for long periods of time. All of these components will be integral in a successful NOFO application.

Taking Advantage of Strategic Opportunities

The Alliance encourages everyone, as you dive into the application process, to recognize this not only as the usual opportunity to fund homelessness programs, but as an opportunity to pull the community together and develop strategic approaches that will impact homelessness for years into the future.

Some examples: if unsheltered homelessness is prevalent in your community, the scoring criteria can help people see how a Housing First approach (using CoC resources in conjunction with vouchers and health care) can resolve that in a positive way with widespread support. People with mental illness can benefit from “mainstream” housing vouchers coordinated with mental health treatment through CoC outreach and engagement services. Extensive resources are now available for addressing domestic violence, both in the NOFO and through other funding streams. HUD’s and Congress’s work has been brought to a new level, especially on homelessness among unaccompanied youth.

In the coming weeks, the Alliance will produce more specific guides for making all these things happen. For now though, read the NOFO, and get together with leaders in your community to talk about how these resources can work for you. And please, take care of yourselves!

The final application is due to HUD on Tuesday, November 16. There’s plenty of time, and the opportunity is exceptional.