The Homeless Children and Youth Act (S. 1469) would wreck the HUD homelessness program and make it far less likely that homeless families will ever be housed.  At the same time, the legislation would not benefit the people it is ostensibly designed to help–people living doubled up–who actually need more rental assistance and more investment in affordable housing.

U.S. Senate bill: S. 1469, introduced by Senate Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — Homeless Children and Youth Act

Committees:

Senate Committee on Baking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Status:

The bill has been re-introduced, but no action has been taken.

Committees:

House Committee on Education and Labor; House Committee on Financial Services

Status:

The bill has not yet been re-introduced.

Impact

The Alliance strongly opposes the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA, S. 1469).  

The national shortage of affordable housing is a crisis for millions of Americans—from those who must spend an unsustainably large share of their income on rent; to those who are unstably housed, staying with their families and friends (doubled up) or in motels; to people who are actually homeless–living in shelters or on the streets.  We need to help all three populations by, among other things, increasing the number of Housing Choice Vouchers, boosting investment in public housing and the Housing Trust Fund, adequately resourcing successful homelessness programs, as well as reforming local zoning and regulatory practices. 

HCYA purports to help the unstably housed—by changing the definition of “homelessness” so that people living doubled up or in motels would also be considered homeless and eligible for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) homeless assistance programs, which constitute a little more than five percent of HUD’s budget and are already vastly oversubscribed.

  1. For the estimated 4.4 million people living doubled up, we need a solution scaled to that population. Making them eligible for the small and inadequately funded homeless programs distracts from real solutions that are currently being considered by Congress and the President to expand resources for rental assistance and invest in the construction of new affordable housing.  
  2. The definition of “homelessness” (42 U.S.C. 11302) used by HUD to determine eligibility for the homelessness program already addresses many of the situations advanced by HCYA proponents to justify deeming the unstably-housed as homeless.[i]
  3. HUD’s homelessness programs have increased spending on families and youth. [ii] In 2013, less than one in eight families entering homelessness programs each year had dedicated resources to reconnect to housing, which is fewer than 20,000 families nationally.  Over the last six years, annual re-housing capacity for families has grown by nearly three-fold.  More than 60,000 families received dedicated re-housing assistance in 2018 and one in three families entering shelters had support to exit homelessness in 2017. The increased capacity paved the way for a 24% national reduction in family homelessness between 2013 and 2019.[iii] 
  4. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of homeless families cannot be served by HUD’s homelessness program because of scarce resources. Of the approximately 150,000 families which experience sheltered homelessness each year, localities have dedicated resources to re-house only one-third.  HCYA would derail further progress and deny tens of thousands of homeless families any chance of ever getting off the streets and out of shelters. 
  5. The CoC program was funded at $3.0 billion for FY21, which is a small fraction of HUD’s $50 billion budget. Most of HUD’s budget is used, appropriately so, on programs to help the unstably housed. A homelessness program that is not even resourced to meet the needs of the 580,000 Americans experiencing homelessness, more than one-third of whom are unsheltered, cannot possibly pay for housing and support services for the unstably-housed, an additional population that may be eight times larger.  

[i] In addition to families living in traditional shelters and who lack “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” the HUD definition of homelessness includes those living in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, bus and train stations, airports, camping grounds, and government-subsidized hotels and motels.  The HUD definition of homelessness also includes people who are currently housed but who are in danger of entering shelter or experiencing unsheltered homelessness within 14 days—whether they, own, rent, share, or are guests, including those paying to stay in hotels and motels—are considered homeless under the HUD definition.  Unaccompanied youth and homeless families with children and youth who have experienced persistent housing instability and will continue to do so “because of chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of domestic violence, or childhood abuse, the presence of a child or youth with a disability, or multiple barriers to employment” are also considered homeless under the HUD definition.  Finally, any family that is “fleeing, or is attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions in the…family’s current housing situation, including where the health and safety of children are jeopardized, and who have no other residence and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing” are considered homeless under the HUD definition. 

[ii] Under HUD’s CoC program, spending on families for permanent housing interventions has increased.  CoC spending on permanent supportive housing (PSH) increased by 18% and rapid re-housing (RRH) by 149%, while CoC spending on youth for PSH increased by 175% and by 4,298% for RRH.  In addition, HUD created a new housing model in the FY17 Notice of Funding Availability called Joint Transitional Housing and PH-RRH, on which HUD spent more than $50 million in 2018—and more than four-fifths of that went to families and youth.

[iii] As noted by HUD Secretary Ben Carson in May 21 testimony before the House Financial Services Committee: “Working together, we’ve managed to cut veterans homelessness in half since 2010; homelessness among families with children is down by nearly 30 percent; and chronic homelessness is down more than 16 percent during this same period.”  HUD’s point-in-time counts aren’t perfect, but these annual snapshots are the result of tens of thousands of hours of work by small armies of police officers, fire fighters, social workers, other government employees, homelessness service providers, and conscientious volunteers across the nation who are supervised by expert outreach staff.  Due to their efforts, we have the most reliable measure of homelessness, a measure that is often criticized for only capturing what it purports to capture: the number of individuals experiencing unsheltered and sheltered homelessness at a single point in time. 

Summary

The Alliance strongly opposes the Homeless Children and Youth Act (S. 1469) because it would wreck the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) homelessness program and make it far less likely that homeless families will ever be housed.  At the same time, the legislation would not benefit the people it is ostensibly designed to help–families living doubled up–who actually need more rental assistance and more investment in affordable housing in order to set up their own households.  

The Homeless Children and Youth Act would change the definition of “homelessness” to allow insecurely housed youth and families, who are housed but living doubled up, to be eligible for HUD’s Continuum of Care (CoC) program, which serves actually homeless families and individuals, those living in shelters or on the streets.  While doubled up families and youths do have serious housing needs, the vast majority are not literally homeless.  If they are literally homeless or even imminently homeless (i.e., will not be able to stay where they are), they actually meet HUD’s definition of homelessness.

The nation’s homeless population on any given night is estimated by the most recent 2020 count to be more than 580,000.  Nevertheless, HUD’s CoC program has limited resources and serves only a fraction of this population’s needs.  The number of people living in doubled up households is estimated to be 4.4 million.  Allowing the significantly larger unstably-housed population to be eligible for HUD’s already-under-resourced homelessness services would obviously overwhelm the CoC program and make it even harder for homeless families and individuals to ever be housed again.  

Of HUD’s FY21 budget, $3 billion is being spent to reduce homelessness, while much of the $47 billion balance is being used to create more affordable housing for the insecurely-housed, among others.  Efforts to help the insecurely-housed should focus on expanding resources for rental assistance and increasing the number of new housing units available for lower-income households.  It is perverse to pit insecurely-housed families against homeless families–the poor against the poorest.  

 

 

 

 

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