"Homeless in Austin" photo © Dustin Ground on flickr.com: https://flickr.com/photos/dground/

HUD launches House America Initiative to reduce homelessness

"Homeless in Austin" photo © Dustin Ground on flickr.com: https://flickr.com/photos/dground/
“Homeless in Austin” photo © Dustin Ground
on flickr.com: https://flickr.com/photos/dground/

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has launched a new effort to reduce homelessness around the country. 

HUD’s House America Initiative will help state and local governments use pandemic relief funds for re-housing persons who are homeless. It will also help build new supportive and affordable housing.

There are 26 state, tribal, and local partners in the initiative; and they will take a Housing First approach to reducing homeessness. This means that the first priority is to get vulnerable people into stable housing. Once people have a safe place to live, they benefit more from support and services to help get them back on their feet.

The 26 partners represent all regions of the country. They include state governments, tribal nations, and local jurisdictions:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Birmingham, Alabama
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • State of California
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Cherokee Nation
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • City of Los Angeles, California
  • County of Los Angeles, California
  • State of Maine
  • Mesa, Arizona
  • Miami-Dade, Florida
  • Oakland, California
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Sacramento, California
  • San Diego, California
  • San Jose, California
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Shelby County, Tennessee
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Washington, District of Columbia

The initiative has ambitious goals. By the end of December 2022, partners will re-house 100,000 households. There will also be 20,000 new supportive and affordable units in the pipeline by the end of 2022.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) targeted a lot of resources for reducing homelessness. It provided 70,000 Emergency Housing Vouchers. These vouchers can be used to rapidly re-house homeless individuals and families in private rental housing. They are targeted to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, domestic violence survivors, and victims of human trafficking.

Map of HUD 2020 Estimates of People Experiencing Homelessness.
HUD 2020 Estimates of People Experiencing Homelessness.
Image by huduser.gov

The ARP also provided $5 billion extra for the HOME program. HOME is a block grant that goes to states and local jurisdictions. It is very flexible and can support a wide range of affordable housing activities. This includes being used for rental assistance or building new affordable and supportive housing.

This money is in addition to the program’s annual appropriation. HOME typically receives $1-1.5 billion each year. This is a big boost to build housing for people experiencing homelessness.

In addition, state and local governments received around $350 billion in ARP funds for Fiscal Relief. These funds have been used to pay the extra cost of public services because of the pandemic, and to keep critical services going because of lost tax revenue.

These pandemic Fiscal Relief funds can also be used to keep people from homelessness. Many jurisdictions have already used these funds for emergency rental assistance. Some have also used them to purchase hotels or other buildings. They have used these properties for safe, non-congregate shelter during the pandemic.

HUD will provide partners with technical assistance to help them access funding from specific programs. Partners will also receive direct technical assistance. This includes facilitating calls with state and local leaders, connecting partners with HUD program staff, and other assistance to help them meet their local goals. State and local partners will also take part in webinars, and get connected with peer-to-peer assistance.

The House America Initiative is co-sponsored by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), which reports to the White House. The goal is to help the initiative partners use pandemic relief funds to re-house vulnerable people and build new affordable and supportive housing.

With every new administration, the HUD Secretary develops special projects to put their own stamp on the agency. These initiatives are often short-lived. They typically have limited funding, and are focused on redirecting or repackaging existing programs.

Former HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s Envision Centers were one such idea. The Envision Centers would be a hub for public housing tenants to access services, job training, and other resources in one location. The initiative had limited funding, and had trouble getting off the ground.

In contrast, the House America Initiative stands out from earlier efforts. It is ambitious, but lays out measurable goals with a specific timeline. It also has a lot of funding behind it.

There are billions of dollars in pandemic relief funds available through the CARES Act, Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the ARP. Although this is not enough funding to end homelessness, it can make a serious dent in the crisis.