Public Housing Agencies and Permanent Supportive Housing for Chronically Homeless People. 7. Helping Permanent Supportive Housing


PSH is permanent housing, meaning that there are no time limits and tenants can choose to stay there as long as they pay rent and meet lease obligations. For many people who have had long histories of homelessness, PSH offers an opportunity for long-term stability and recovery. Over time, however, the needs and preferences of supportive housing tenants may change. After a period of stability in PSH, some people who live in site-based PSH no longer need the level of support that is available there. Some would like to move on to other housing that offers better access to jobs, family, or other social connections, or perhaps the opportunity to live in a different neighborhood. Some formerly homeless people live in scattered-site PSH, using tenant-based rental assistance from the HCV or the Shelter Plus Care program. For these subsidized tenants, “graduating” from PSH may mean that the household no longer receives the same types or intensity of supportive services and may use a different type of rent subsidy, without moving to a different apartment. When people have the opportunity to move on or “graduate” from PSH, this creates turnover that allows existing PSH to serve more homeless people.

During our site visits, all of the PSH providers that we spoke with said that some PSH tenants could move on to less service-rich environments if affordable housing opportunities or rental assistance were more widely available. Some supports would be needed during the transition, and ongoing supportive services would have to be provided in the community.17 At one meeting, PSH providers estimated that 10-20 percent of single adults and about half of the families living in PSH could move on to other housing that offers a less service-rich “step up.” Some described this as a “housing next” model that follows “housing first.” The availability of ongoing support when needed is important because, even for “successful” PSH residents, progress can be uneven, health or mental health conditions can recur or worsen, or people can relapse with substance abuse problems.

Set-aside units in affordable housing developments were described as one way to provide opportunities for tenants to move on from PSH. Another approach is to use tenant-based vouchers for people who have achieved stability in site-based PSH. PHAs that are exploring this option would provide rental assistance that would allow these tenants to move out of PSH and into housing that meets changing needs and preferences, while creating an opening that can be used to house a more vulnerable homeless person who needs the on-site services and/or low-barrier housing access available in PSH. (This is similar to the strategy used by some PHAs to enable families or individuals to “graduate” from housing that is explicitly transitional--that is, a housing development or housing-with-services program that has a time limit of 2 years or less.)

In California, the Alameda County Shelter Plus Care program is just beginning to work with participating PHAs to transition a few tenants to HCVs, in order to free up Shelter Plus Care for currently homeless people with higher levels of service needed. Local government representatives and stakeholders in other cities also seemed interested in providing affordable housing opportunities that would allow them to make better use of PSH capacity.

In Chicago, there has already been one pilot of the concept of graduation for about 25 people who are ready to move on after living in PSH for several years. Housing resources have been provided from a program funded by the State and administered by the city, with supportive services funded by the Chicago DFSS, which also manages ShelterPlus Care. A second initiative for graduates of PSH is being designed as a collaboration between DFSS and the CHA. CHA will provide scattered-site HCVs, while the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund will provide some apartments in project-based, mixed-income buildings.

Those planning the second graduation initiative in Chicago are convinced that, in order to persuade landlords to take the graduates of PSH, they must be assured of backup in the form of supportive services. DFSS, CHA, and other agencies engaged in this planning effort control several potential funding sources, including the federal Community Services Block Grant and Community Development Block Grant that could be used for supportive services to PSH tenants. Because of its MTW authority, CHA also could convert some funding from housing subsidy payments to funding for services.

Design issues for the second “moving on” pilot include:

  • Who will do the screening to identify who is ready to graduate? What criteria should be used, and what type of screening tool might be available or created? Since we visited, it has been decided that PSH agencies will screen all their current tenants to see who might be eligible. Provider input is being sought on how to structure the screener and determine eligibility.

  • How can current PSH tenants be induced to graduate? The partners expect to consult with experienced providers that were part of the previous pilot to see what they think and how they would do it.

  • Do the homeless people who will be able to move into a vacated Shelter Plus Care slot need to be on Medicaid for providers to be willing to accept them? If not, how will the costs of supportive services be covered?

  • How flexible can CHA be about its requirements and, for those that can’t be waived, how can people be assisted to meet them (e.g., paying off money owed to CHA)?

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