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New initiative brings together mayors and CEOs to address homelessness

On Jan. 25, I attended the launch event for the Mayors and CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment at the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence in Washington, D.C. Holding the kickoff event at the Conway Residence, which is just blocks from our nation’s capital, was symbolically powerful. Conway is home to 60 formerly homeless veterans, 17 individuals who are served by the Washington, D.C. Department of Behavioral Health and 47 people who earn at or below 60 percent of the DC area median income, which in FY 2017 equates to an individual making $46,380 or less and a family of four making $66,180 or less.

The mayors and CEOs involved in the campaign are calling on members of Congress to replicate the Conway Residence across the nation to end homelessness, and provide increased funding to the federal programs that came together to build and the Conway Residence. The group specifically calls out the following policy objectives:

  • Advance new public-private partnership federal programs that assist Americans in accessing affordable housing and that combat homelessness. Recommended programs include:
    • Housing Innovation, Investment and Reform Opportunities (HIIRO): Creation of a HUD program, modeled after the Department of Transportation’s TIGER grants, which provides competitive grants to local communities that reward innovative thinking and collaborative, cross-sector projects to combat homelessness and affordable housing challenges.
    • HUD Partnerships Accelerating Supportive Services (HUD-PASS): Creation of a competitive joint HUD- Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)program that pairs HUD housing vouchers with HHS services through SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)’s Cooperative Agreements to Benefit Homeless Individuals competitive grant programs targeted to families who experience homelessness and have multiple barriers (e.g. mental illness, addiction, child with disability requiring full-time care giver, parents with mental illness etc.). HUD funding would be used to rent private-market apartments and SAMHSA funding would be used for case management.
    • Housing Stabilization Fund: Creation of a pool of funds within HUD to provide one-time, short-term emergency housing assistance to households below 80 percent of area median income. Funds would be initially allocated to communities by formula, and subsequently on a pro rata basis adjusted for performance. There are many low-income renter and owner households which, while generally able to afford their homes, still lack any cushion when faced with a housing emergency. For these households a loss of a job or a health emergency can result in eviction and a downward spiral of housing instability that often ends in homelessness. Unfortunately, there is no consistent housing program, fund or tool to help prevent such losses.
  • Prevent elimination of the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships programs and ensure level funding for them.
  • Maintain funding for Section 8 rental housing assistance.
  • Preserve and gradually increase funding for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing and Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Grants.

This list is a great starting point and will hopefully spur some bipartisan support for these programs as we enter the FY 2019 budget process. I would encourage the group to consider adding a point on supporting the Cantwell-Hatch legislation to strengthen and improve the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.

This group, led by the National League of Cities and Holland and Knight LLP and advised by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, has an important role to play in advocating for federal resources for housing. As housing prices have grown over the last several years, states and communities across the country, and these mayors in particular, have increased their communities’ financial contributions to housing production and vouchers to respond to the crisis. It’s time for the federal government to do the same.

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