Improving access to housing choice vouchers for people experiencing homelessness

Wednesday, June 1, 2016: 1:00 PM-2:00 PM
Broadway IV (Hilton Portland)
Housing Choice Vouchers (or Section 8 Vouchers), the largest federal rental assistance program in the country, serve over 2 million households. HCVs are highly effective at helping people experiencing homelessness achieve long-term housing stability and can serve as a platform for gains in other areas, such as improved physical and mental health. Yet in many communities HCVs are difficult for people experiencing homelessness to access and use. People who are homeless cannot wait to move to the top of a traditional voucher waitlist. Even at the top of the waitlist, people experiencing homelessness face multiple barriers: screenings that prevent people with criminal records or bad credit from receiving vouchers, discrimination by landlords, tight rental markets, and the difficulty of a housing search. Reflecting the conference theme of Working Together for Quality, attendees will learn how to work with PHAs to help more people experiencing homelessness access vouchers and improve the utilization of vouchers in their community. It is well known that stable housing, which vouchers provide, can increase the quality of health care and overall quality of life. Homeless service providers can also help improve the quality of voucher administration in their community by providing services that increase the rate of leasing and decrease evictions and moves among voucher holders. This workshop will cover the following topics: 1) Preferences and other waitlist policies. PHAs can choose to set preferences to get vouchers to people experiencing homelessness quickly. We will explain the different ways preferences can be implemented and the advantages of a good preference policy to both homeless service providers and the PHA. Attendees will learn how to work with their PHA to establish new or better preferences, and avoid individuals who are homeless losing their place on the waiting list. 2) Screening. Some PHAs set stringent screening policies that prevent many applicants experiencing homelessness from receiving vouchers for reasons not directly relevant to tenant suitability, such as excessive screening based on credit and criminal background. We will help attendees understand the laws around screening and help advocates push for less exclusionary screening. 3) Helping families use vouchers. Even after receiving a voucher, actually finding a unit and signing a lease can be difficult. High rents and low vacancy rates can make vouchers hard to use. In many areas without a law prohibiting it, landlords can decline to accept voucher holders—and simply the difficulty of the housing search can be a barrier to finding housing. We will discuss best practices in all these areas, including PHA policies that make accepting vouchers more attractive to landlords and providing services to aid in the housing search. 4) Supportive housing. For some people experiencing homelessness, supportive housing is the most effective intervention to help them maintain stable housing. Vouchers are very helpful for the creation of supportive housing. We will cover the basics of how to use vouchers to create supportive housing.
Ehren Dohler, MSW (Coordinator, HCV Funding Project, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)
Frances Isbell, MA (CEO, Health Care for the Homeless Houston)
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