Public Housing Agencies and Permanent Supportive Housing for Chronically Homeless People. 1. Public Housing Agency Housing Assistance Program


Public housing agencies (PHAs), often referred to as housing authorities, administer federal funding for housing assistance to low-income families and individuals. More than 4,000 PHAs nationwide administer the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV)1 program or own and operate public housing developments. PHAs range in size from fewer than 50 units of housing assistance to many thousands. Most large PHAs both own public housing and administer the voucher program. Most PHAs have city or county service areas, although a few states such as Massachusetts and Michigan also have state-level PHAs.

As of 2012, there are about 1.1 million public housing units in developments that vary widely in size and design. In recent years, some public housing developments have been renovated or rebuilt as "mixed-income" housing that includes a public housing component and also units for households at somewhat higher income levels.

As of 2012, there are about 2 million HCV subsidy slots. Vouchers enable families and individuals to rent housing in the private market, with a subsidy paid to the owner by the PHA based on the unit's rent (up to a maximum) minus about 30 percent of the tenant's income. Like public housing, the HCV program has not grown in recent years, althoughCongress has funded, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has allocated, some vouchers designated for target populations with special needs--for example, the HUD and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, which provides vouchers for homeless veterans paired with case management services provided by Veterans Affairs medical centers (VAMCs).2

Some PHAs may also administer other federal, state, or local programs that assist low-income households or finance the development of affordable housing. For example, PHAs may administer Tenant-based Rental Assistance, similar to vouchers, funded by the HOME block grant program, and they may participate in partnerships that develop and manage housing for people with disabilities under the Section 811 program or housing developed using the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program that is funded through federal tax credits and allocated by state housing finance agencies.

PHAs also may help to administer specialized housing for homeless people funded through HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants program--in particular, voucher-like tenant-based housing subsidies funded by the Shelter Plus Care program. Shelter Plus Care is one type of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), providing housing and services to formerly homeless people with disabilities. PSH provides a permanent housing subsidy, along with the health care and other supportive services needed to help tenants adjust to living in housing and make the changes in their lives that will help them keep their housing.

PHAs may also use their "mainstream" HCV and public housing programs to provide PSH to homeless people, in particular those with chronic patterns of homelessness. Opening Doors, the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, emphasizes the need to use mainstream housing programs to help meet the goals of reducing and ending homelessness. HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress reports local community estimates of 237,000 PSH beds as of 2010.3 Much of that housing receives funding from HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants (McKinney-Vento) programs, which are very small compared with the mainstream programs administered by PHAs. If PHAs made available just 1 percent of the 3.1 million HCV slots and public housing units for additional PSH, that would add 31,000 units--and a larger number of beds--to PSH capacity.

The President’s FY2011 and FY2012 Budgets proposed to allocate funding for 4,000 new housing vouchers to be administered by PHAs and linked to Medicaid and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)-funded behavioral health services for chronically homeless people. The proposed demonstration project would have tested and evaluated models for linking services to federal HCVs. Congress did not approve the funding for the demonstration project in either year and funding was not included in the 2013 budget.

Meanwhile, this issue brief, based on the literature review and site visits conducted for the first phase of this project, documents some particular ways in which PHAs currently are using their programs to create PSH and to target it to chronically homeless people. Another project, funded by HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research, is conducting web-based survey of all PHAs and a follow-up telephone survey of 125 PHAs to learn more about the extent to which PHAs are attempting to serve homeless people by partnering with providers of services to homeless people and about the barriers homeless people may face in using the HCV and public housing programs.

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