The Time Has Come to Design a Flexible Pool of Funds to
Rapidly Respond to Homelessness Unlike Ever Before

–See Recommendations for Next Steps Below–

It is time to boost a “whatever it takes” approach to house homeless households by designing a flexible pool of funds to respond rapidly to the homeless experiences of individuals and families unlike ever before.

One key ingredient for a flexible pool of funds is to have one source of funding that subsidizes costs to rapidly house homeless households that no other sources of funding in the pool will pay for because of funding restrictions.

A pool of funds should include public and private funding sources that can be used to pay for all of the activities that are generally based on evidenced-based, best, promising, and emerging practices to help persons who are homeless obtain and maintain permanent housing such as street outreach, housing navigation, rental assistance, and home-based case management.

One source of funding within the pool should boost a “whatever it takes” approach to house a household by paying for costs considered to be property owner incentives. Such incentives have become increasingly needed to secure permanent housing units and to rapidly house homeless households.

State of California’s Evolving Recognition of Need for Property Owner Incentives

State of California legislation and funding sources have recognized the need for property owner incentives.

In 2018, the California Emergency Solutions and Housing (CESH) Program was created by combining available Senate Bill (SB) 2 funds with the remaining 2016 California Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funds. In SB2: First Year, the list of eligible activities for funding included

Flexible housing subsidy funds for local programs that establish or support the provision of rental subsidies in permanent housing to assist homeless individuals and families. Funds used for purposes of this paragraph may support rental assistance, bridge subsidies to property owners waiting for approval from another permanent rental subsidy source, vacancy payments, or project-based rent or operating reserves.

In February 2019, AB-816 California Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool Program was introduced as

  • Promoting regional collaboration and consolidating funding into a single, flexible funding source would move California toward ensuring that any Californian’s experience with homelessness is rare, brief, and one time.

If approved, the legislation would establish

  • the California Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool Program within the Department of Housing and Community Development for the purpose of making grants available to applicants, defined to include a city, county, city and county, or continuum of care, for eligible activities . . .

Eligible activities included the creation of

  • a local flexible housing subsidy pool that, to the extent funds may be used for these purposes, combines funding from health, criminal justice, child welfare, or emergency response systems to fund the same eligible uses as identified in this section.

During January 2020, the Governor received a series of recommendations from his appointed Council of Regional Homeless Advisors that included a 40-point Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy that included

  • Expand flexible funding, including housing subsidies for those on the verge of homelessness; and
  • Expand flexible funding for those in need of interim housing/shelter.

During February 2020, Assembly Bill 3300 Homelessness: California Access to Housing and Services Act was introduced, and if approved, it will provide more than $1 billion annually

  • to counties and continuums of care applying jointly through flexible pools or other mechanisms for coordinating existing and new funding for housing and services.

The proposed legislation states

  • that homelessness is an evolving challenge and that the state must be flexible in ensuring that strategies are based on data and that the funding formula reflects the needs as accurately as possible.

Eligible activities include

  • Incentives to landlords to provide permanent housing, including, but not limited to, payment of security deposits, repairs made in advance of occupancy to ensure compliance with habitability standards, and technical assistance in the form of contractors to assist the landlord in making repairs.

Recommendations for Next Steps

1. A “whatever it takes” approach should be encouraged by augmenting the property owner incentives recognized by the State of California with additional incentives to help secure units and remove barriers to rapidly house homeless households by using flexible funding to pay for the incentives

State of California legislation and guidance for related funding sources have recognized the need for property owner incentives during the past couple of years. As noted above, recognition included using flexible funding to

  • bridge subsidies to property owners waiting for approval from another permanent rental subsidy source (e.g., waiting for housing officials to inspect the unit before the tenant moves in);
  • vacancy payments;
  • project-based rent or operating reserves;
  • repairs made in advance of occupancy to ensure compliance with habitability standards; and
  • technical assistance in the form of contractors to assist the landlord in making repairs.

However, other property owner incentives have become increasingly needed to change property owner reluctance to secure units and rapidly house homeless households that have not yet been included in the State of California legislation and/or guidance for related funding sources. Payment for the following incentives should be considered for inclusion:

  • Up to two months’ rent security deposit and/or utility assistance;
  • Unpaid rent before and after tenant moves;
  • Contingency fund to help landlords cover expenses such as repairs that exceed security deposits and legal costs related to eviction process and disposal assistance of property;
  • One-time Leasing bonus for additional units;
  • Holding fees to hold available units;
  • Indemnification of property owners for property damage;
  • Damage claims to mitigate damage caused by tenants during occupancy;
  • Dedicated point person responsive to property owner concerns and needs for prompt intervention with tenants when requested;
  • Application fees and any credit/background check reports required for leasing unit;
  • Apartment furnishings to help ensure a healthy living environment;
  • Renters insurance policy;
  • Move-in/move-out cleaning service;
  • Percentage of security services (or motion censored lighting) if several or many units are leased.

2. Housing Search should be the only job responsibility of dedicated Housing Locators

In California, housing search has largely happened through the efforts of housing navigators, street outreach workers, case managers, and the homeless persons they are trying to permanently house. It is time, however, for the staff position of Housing Locator to be more widely recognized and for housing search to be their only job responsibility.

Too often we have said or heard “there is no housing in our communities” for persons who are homeless. Yet, because of the efforts of housing navigators, street outreach workers, case managers, and the homeless persons that they are trying to permanently house, dozens and even hundreds of homeless persons are permanently housed within many of our jurisdictions each year.

These staff persons, however, have many other responsibilities that demand their time. As a result, they may only be finding a limited number of units among the limited number of potential rental units for persons who are homeless.

Initiating or expanding housing search through Housing Locators whose only job responsibility is housing search will likely result in finding a larger number of the limited number of potential units for persons who are homeless in our jurisdictions. Housing Locators should be dedicated solely to housing search activities and not be involved in street outreach, housing navigation, or case management services. Their activities should solely focus on finding as many of the limited universe of potential units as possible by engaging a broad network of property owners; property managers; residential care providers; affordable housing developers; affordable housing operators; single room occupancy corporations; permanent supportive housing providers; and others through

  • one-on-one meetings; and
  • group meetings including representatives from the broad network noted above.

A key resource for Housing Locators to successfully recruit representatives is an expanded Property Owner Incentive Program that includes all of the incentives that the State of California legislation and guidance for related funding sources allow today and all of the other property owner incentives to change property owner reluctance noted above.

Benefits

Benefits from initiating or expanding Housing Locators within jurisdictions include:

  • finding more of the limited number of potential units for persons who are homeless in our jurisdictions;
  • increasing time for recruiting and engaging a broad network of persons and organizations that have rental units;
  • supplying more housing opportunities to help move homeless persons out of local coordinated entry systems quicker; and
  • providing more time for street outreach workers, housing navigators, and case managers to focus on non-housing search responsibilities.

It is worth noting that funding housing search will likely make funding other service activities such as street outreach and housing navigation more effective.

3. Delineate current legislative language and define future legislative language to include Housing Locators whose sole job responsibility is housing search.

Current Legislative Language

Housing search should be delineated under funding sources that have been provided under current legislation. For example, if a current funding source allows for “Services” that include other services such as street outreach or housing navigation, housing search should be encouraged as an eligible use of the funds, especially because of its benefits to other such services. Current legislative language, generally allows for delineation, because when an eligible use such as “Services” is noted in a related NOFA, it is often proceeded by language such as “Eligible uses include, but are not limited to” such as in the NOFA for the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) created by SB 850 in January 2018.

Future Legislative Language

Future legislative language should include a definition of housing search that includes recruiting and engaging a broad network of persons and organizations that have rental units to encourage them to rent to persons who are homeless. This definition should then be included in future NOFAs (Notice of Funding Availability). Housing search should also be included under eligible uses. For example, if one eligible use is “Services,” housing search should be listed in a similar way as other listed services such as street outreach and housing navigation.