This post is the final in a three-part series that will provide an overview of the strategies presented in the February 2019 report: Aligning Affordable Housing Efforts with Actions to End Homelessness by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). The report calls for action alignment across these areas.
This blog post will provide an overview and analysis of the last three strategies as well as what it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg. To read the first blog post click here and to read the second blog post, click here.
ALIGN FUNDING: SYNCHRONIZE FINANCING BY ALIGNING CAPITAL, SERVICE, AND OPERATING FUNDING
Affordable housing development requires multiple funding sources from public and private sectors; these funding sources have different timelines and application schedules, which can slow down the development process. To speed up the process and reduce the burden on developers to align the funding sources, funders can work together to align their requirements and timelines. Some communities have created Funders Collaboratives to facilitate the process of alignment from funding to operations and evaluation of outcomes. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, United Way of Central Carolinas coordinates a local Funders Collaborative that works as a learning community to have a shared understanding of the issues that impact constituents served by United Way partners. This includes sharing research, discussing appropriate outcomes, and compiling information on current investments.
LINK HEALTH AND HOUSING: ALIGN HEALTH AND HOUSING STRATEGIES AND RESOURCES
Research has shown that there is a link between health and housing. This means that housing solutions must integrate services that support health and wellness. Rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing subsidies are paired with supportive services in order to help individuals access housing and sustain it. In order to receive housing subsidies, agencies must provide supportive services, but funding is not always available; Mecklenburg County Community Support Services provides funding for supportive services to local agencies in order to fill this gap. In addition, states can choose to use Medicaid to cover the costs of services that help individuals sustain housing. Partnerships with local hospitals and health care and behavioral health care resources can unlock additional funding for both housing and health interventions. Such a partnership also provides opportunities to align strategies, co-locate services and coordinate resources. In some communities, health care organizations have taken an additional step by directly investing in affordable and supportive housing.
ENSURE ACCESS: ENSURE ACCESS FOR PEOPLE WITH HISTORIES OF HOMELESSNESS, LOW INCOMES, AND OTHER HOUSING BARRIERS
It is critical that there be genuine and meaningful access to stable housing for individuals and families who have histories of homelessness, have low incomes and possess other housing barriers. In order to create this kind of access, communities can take specific steps, which are detailed below:
- Utilize Housing First practices and principles. Housing First is a research-informed approach to quickly and successfully connect people experiencing homelessness to permanent housing without any preconditions or barriers to entry. This is grounded in the belief that stabilizing living arrangements is a precursor to addressing issues such as mental health, substance abuse or unemployment. Orienting toward a Housing First approach as a system requires additional coordination and collaboration among and across providers and funders.
- Provide education on Fair Housing Laws. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits the denial of housing to a person based on the person’s membership in one or more of the classes protected under the Act. The protected classes are race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and disability. April is National Fair Housing month: to learn more you can click here to read about the Fair Housing Project through Legal Aid of North Carolina.
- Vet all policies and resources to ensure access to stable housing is equitable across race and ethnicity. In late 2018, the Committee to House the Bay Area created a 10-point set of policy recommendations called the CASA Compact designed to increase housing production at all levels of affordability, preserve existing affordable housing, and protect vulnerable populations from housing instability and displacement. This is an example where communities can intentionally consider racial equity as part of its affordable housing work.
- Create a centralized database of all units and connect to Coordinated Entry. To ensure that individuals and families who most need housing can access it, it is important to create a centralized database of all available units and streamline eligibility for entry. Linking the centralized database to Coordinated Entry can help simplify access, eliminate multiple waiting lists and effectively match up those seeking housing with housing solutions. This requires that all landlords and resources connected to deeply affordable units and Housing Choice Vouchers participate fully.
While the strategies featured in this post may be new, the “So, What” is ultimately the same. Therefore, this section integrates the “So, What” from the previous posts with new information.
Splitting the housing and homelessness continuum does not give an advantage to the efforts focused on housing; nor does it help those focused on homelessness. The problems underlying the need for both are linked and it is impossible to effectively address the one without also attending to the other.
While linking the issues might serve to make the problem seem too big, the reality is that the problem is big. It is also true that the big problem is solvable, if addressed holistically. Alignment of efforts positions the community to have the best possible prospects for solving all of it.
Funding for affordable housing does not have to be a barrier. There are are adequate local, state and federal resources that can be leveraged, optimized and scaled to ensure that funding is best targeted to address the problem and ensure solutions are maintained.
Paving the way for true access for individuals and families who need housing the most requires a comprehensive review of existing policies and practices to ensure all barriers to housing are removed. Creating new units must be done while also examining the inequities that have created and perpetuate the current problems seen today.
Housing must be available and accessible to all individuals and families who need it in the community. The steps outlined in this series of posts provide opportunities for alignment, coordination and collaboration; and most of all – movement for work to be done across the housing continuum.
Courtney Morton coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.