Public Housing Agencies and Permanent Supportive Housing for Chronically Homeless People. 8. Creating Partnerships with Public Housing Agencies Can Be Challenging


The communities we visited for this project were selected in part because of the activities of their PHAs in support of homeless people and PSH. PHAs in many other communities are more reluctant partners. They may be less interested in or committed to the goals of PSH, or they may have significant capacity limitations and performance problems.

Nearly all PHAs face significant competing demands for a limited supply of housing vouchers and units in public housing developments. Some have thousands of people on waiting lists, and many have closed their waiting lists to potential applicants. When so many other low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities have been waiting for years for housing assistance, some PHAs are reluctant to target their resources to PSH projects or to prioritize people who are homeless.

It can be challenging for PHAs to align waiting list policies and tenant selection criteria with the different categorical eligibility requirements associated with the sources of funding for supportive services. For example, categorical restrictions on the sources of funding available for supportive services may limit these resources to people with SMI. PHAs cannot use these same criteria to select tenants for housing assistance. Federal Fair Housing law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. This has been interpreted to mean that, while PHAs may have preferences for people with disabilities, they cannot select for households with a particular disability such as mental illness. (The original intention was to prevent housing discrimination against people whose disability was mental illness.) These issues are complex and require careful analysis.18 Legal issues are less likely to arise when PHAs and service partners use criteria such as chronic homelessness or vulnerability as defined by the Vulnerability Index tool, which many communities now use to determine which homeless person they will prioritize to receive the next available housing unit.19

Even in the communities that were part of our site visits, some PHAs were not strong partners in creating supportive housing or facilitating access to housing assistance for chronically homeless people with disabilities. This could be due to limited administrative capacity--in some cases the result of reductions in federal funding for administrative costs, which have forced many PHAs to reduce staffing levels. On the other hand, strong leadership and commitment by leaders and staff in some PHAs have made them effective partners in creating housing opportunities for homeless people. Some of these PHAs have made extraordinary efforts to overcome the challenges that have created obstacles in other communities.

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