January 25, 2011

Access to Housing: our new program

Last week you read a bit about affordable housing options (and the lack thereof) in DC. We see people every day who are homeless or living in precarious housing situations and are having trouble finding viable housing options. While we don't build more affordable housing here at Bread for the City, we can help our clients access the affordable housing that already exists.

So our Social Services department has started a new initiative to do just that.

The Housing Access Program (HAP) started in September of last year. It focuses on Site-Based Section 8, the privately owned HUD (Housing and Urban Development) subsidized apartment buildings scattered throughout the city. Like DCHA housing, these buildings offer apartments for rent at 30% of the tenant’s income. Each building is privately owned, however, meaning that each one has a separate application process, waiting list, and criteria. Some require that all residents be age 62 and over and some require that residents have a documented disability. Others do not carry any of these restrictions.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that a client is neither disabled nor over 62. This same client is lucky enough to be literate and tech savvy, have access to a computer and phone, and have the time and money to visit multiple apartment buildings.

They might go to the HUD website to search for an apartment, and that search would yield a list of 110 Site-Based Section 8 buildings. The list probably hasn’t been updated in a long time, and in any case it doesn’t indicate whether properties have open waiting lists. They could try to email, call, or visit every building, which would take weeks or months, only to eventually realize that only 5 of those 110 buildings are open, accepting new applications, and don’t require applicants to be elderly or disabled.

Our goal with the Housing Access Program is to make this whole process more efficient. Through the program, we keep an internal database of all the properties that are accepting new applications, including things like the application itself, income requirements, and a list of necessary documents (photo ID, birth certificate, Social Security card, and proof of income, to name a few). We can then provide clients with a customized list of housing options for which they are eligible, making their search much easier. This customized list alone can be very helpful for anyone undertaking a broad search for housing.

The Housing Access Program, however, is specially designed to assist individuals with limited literacy skills, limited mobility, limited transportation funds, and/or are living with chronic medical or mental health concerns. For them, it is an invaluable resource to have a case manager assist in completing the applications and work with them to gather necessary documents and complete and submit these applications. So far, we have assisted clients in completing and submitting over 100 applications, and more are being done each day.

Our work doesn’t end with the submission of the application. We've also started offering tours for clients to visit properties and drop their applications off in person -- an important aspect of finding a safe, healthy place to live. And while our clients wait for their names to rise to the top of the waitlists, we refer them to other agencies to help repair their credit, which is an important factor once their applications for housing are being evaluated. Once approved for housing, we can then assist our clients with securing furniture and other needed household items.

This is not a short-term solution. While not as daunting as the waiting list at the DC Housing Authority (which is currently at 31,777 households), none of these buildings have vacant units. Many of our HAP clients will still have to wait for years before they attain housing. But not all of them: we have already seen 4 clients housed through the HAP program (and no clients housed through DCHA during that time period).

We are very excited about this concerted effort to make the best use of our resources for helping clients access affordable housing.

1 comment:

Hannah Campbell Gustafson said...

So great to read about this, especially after hearing so much of the conversation about this last year! Wish I could be around to see all of this in action!