Living Dr. King’s Legacy: Affordable Housing and a Call to Serve

Throughout the civil rights movement, housing was inextricably linked to the call for equality. But also tied to the movement was the recognition of a need to serve.

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Cities including Columbus and Parma, Ohio, are partnering with The Home Depot Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, and Purple Heart Homes to provide homes as part of their service to those in need.

As the nation pauses to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is worth remembering that our country’s immediate response to his death was to pass legislation related to housing discrimination.

Alongside his calls for racial equality, Dr. King regularly urged people to join him in service. Only two months before he was killed, Dr. King spoke at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Recognizing that one form of service is taking action to ensure everyone has their basic needs met, Dr. King made civil rights, community service and housing justice fundamental components of his work.

In cities across the country, local leaders are partnering with nonprofits and philanthropies to ensure the housing needs of the most vulnerable are met. The homeless, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities have unique housing needs that can require individualized responses.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One way cities are supporting these responses is through the donation of city-held properties. During NLC’s City Summit in Pittsburgh, the work of the City of Columbus was highlighted, as was their partnership with National Church Residences, a leading non-profit housing provider.

Columbus officials spoke about how they have revitalized entire sections of their community. As part of the city’s South Side Renaissance, the city has cleared an 11-acre site, demolished 60 blighted properties, and acquired over 100 properties.

In collaboration with philanthropies and nonprofit affordable housing developers, there are now 40 new single-family homes designated as rent to own opportunities and 14 homes for direct homeownership. In addition, a high-density multi-phase development is in process that will result in 116 units of senior housing and 62 units of permanent supportive housing.

One partner in this work was Habitat for Humanity, whose work in support of veterans has been previously been highlighted on Citiesspeak.

In the ongoing environment of dwindling resources from all levels of government, partnerships with philanthropies are critical for developing, preserving and modifying homes. In service to veterans and their families, The Home Depot Foundation has committed to invest a quarter of a billion dollars to veteran-related causes by 2020. Since 2011, the Foundation and Team Depots, associate-lead groups of volunteers, have improved more than 26,700 homes and 6,900 veteran facilities in more than 2,000 cities.

Also in Ohio, a partnership between Purple Heart Homes and The Home Depot Foundation has been highlighted as an example of service work made possible because of the connections between cities, philanthropies, and non-profit housing providers.

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, local leaders have an opportunity to reflect and recommit themselves to their mission of service to the community. Beyond today, that commitment must live on to not only help those in need, but also inspire those around us to join us in service.

 
Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Cities Remember Homeless Deaths, Commit to Creating Solutions

December 21 is marked as Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day. More than 100 communities across 39 states will hold memorial services and provide personal remembrances for those that have been lost. 

Poverty

In 2016, an estimated 2,675 homeless people have died in the United States.

On a bitterly cold winter morning in Boston nearly 15 years ago, I arrived at work to start my day doing outreach to women and men living on the city’s streets. As I approached the office, I saw someone huddled under a blanket leaning against the front door. After trying to wake them, I realized the man had died from exposure.

I did not recognize the man and he had few belongings. He died alone and nameless.

Tragically, this is an all too common occurrence. While there are no comprehensive data collected on the number of homeless men and women who die on our streets each year, in 2016 an estimated 2,675 people are reported to have died so far.

In an effort to honor the humanity of these individuals and draw attention to the deadly reality of homelessness, December 21 – the first day of winter and the longest night of the year – is marked as Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day.

Tonight, in collaboration with the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 112 communities across 39 states will hold memorial services where the names of those known are read and attendees provide personal remembrances.

These events offer cities an opportunity to reflect on the collective and individual tragedies, while recommitting to the necessary work of ensuring all people have a safe place to call home. Specifically, these events offer cities the chance to earnestly review what is happening in their response systems to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring.

Here in the nation’s capital, less than three blocks from NLC’s office, there is an example of how local leaders can come together to implement known best practices for housing the homeless.

Developed by Community Solutions, an internationally recognized provider of technical assistance on homelessness, the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence is a 124-unit complex with 60 units of permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless veterans, 17 units for tenants referred by the District’s Department of Behavioral Health, and 47 apartments for low-income residents making 60 percent or less of the area median income.

Access to permanent supportive housing is at the core of a community’s Housing First response to homelessness and the Conway Residences equally illustrates the importance of such housing and the challenges to affordable housing development.

During the 2016 Point in Time count of the District’s homeless population, 579 veterans were identified. Thanks to Community Solutions’ commitment to working with community stakeholders such as the local medical center of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the District’s Department of Housing and Community Development, units made available by the development have been prioritized for veterans who have been assessed for housing and services in a coordinated manner as part of The Way Home campaign.

The Conway Residences come as the District builds on progress that has housed 505 veterans between January and August 2016. Community partners estimate that 284 veterans still need to be housed to reach the goal of ending veteran homelessness.

Despite the critical need for units like those offered by the Conway Residences, the development’s eight-year timeline shows there are substantial areas in need of improvement to build and preserve the necessary amount of housing.

The Home Depot was a key partner in the development of the Conway Residences, providing capital and associates volunteered as part of Team Depot to prepare apartments for area veterans.

The Home Depot was a key partner in the development of the Conway Residences, providing capital and associates volunteered as part of Team Depot to prepare apartments for area veterans.

Thanks to the dedicated support of philanthropic partners such as The Home Depot Foundation and the William S. Abell Foundation, the Conway Residences continued to make progress as Community Solutions held numerous rounds of negotiations with a variety of funding entities and municipal departments.

The number of stakeholders with their own processes and timelines included: the Board of Zoning Adjustment, Department of Behavioral Health, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Department of General Services, Department of Housing and Community Development, District Department of Transportation, District of Columbia Housing Authority, District of Columbia’s Housing Finance Agency, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, DC Council, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Streamlining funding structures and coordinating municipal processes related to the development of affordable housing is a central role that cities can plan to support efforts to end homelessness. In cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles, state, county, and city officials have established an “affordable housing pipeline” to address these complexities and expedite the overall process.

Beyond streamlining, a persistent challenge for developers of affordable housing is a lack of resources. In the ongoing climate of dwindling federal resources, cities are increasingly turning to investments in affordable housing trust funds and rental subsidy programs resourced with local dollars.

In recognition of this need, in October, the District’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, announced a $106 million commitment to produce or preserve more than 1,200 affordable housing units across the city.

With thousands of people dying annually on city streets, it may be difficult to not see homelessness as an intractable problem that will always plague cities.

But this is not the case.

A growing number of communities are achieving a functional end to veteran homelessness as defined by a series of criteria and benchmarks established by federal partners as part of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Since 2010, veteran homelessness nationwide has declined 47 percent.

In addition, since 2010, cities report a reduction in chronic homelessness by 27 percent. Between 2015 and 2016 alone, chronic homelessness declined by 7 percent overall and in smaller communities the decline was 13 percent.

By committing to work with community stakeholders through efforts such as the Mayors Challenge, city leaders can turn the somber occasion of this year’s Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day into lasting and meaningful action that can improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us.

To learn more about what you can do in your city with the National League of Cities and our national partners through efforts like the Mayors Challenge, visit www.nlc.org/mayorschallenge.

 

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

3 Ways Cities Can Navigate the ‘Silver Tsunami’

Cities are now five years into a demographic change that will impact nearly every family in America from now until well beyond 2030. In the face of this change, how can city leaders meet the challenge of connecting available resources to the elderly?

(Photo courtesy of the Home Depot Foundation)

Team Depot volunteers are key partners with nonprofits that rehabilitate homes in the Miami area. (The Home Depot Foundation)

The so-called ‘silver tsunami’ has become a relatively well-known form of shorthand for the demographic fact that roughly 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 years old every day. This reality began in 2011 and will continue until 2030. For key lessons from an area with a large population of senior citizens, let’s look at the area around Miami, Florida.

In the City of Miami Gardens, Navy veteran Gary Brown illustrates the need facing seniors and their communities. Mr. Brown served in the Navy during the Vietnam War as an engineer. Trained as an air-conditioning technician and electrician, he worked as a handyman and carpenter until he was forced to retire due to numerous disabilities including hip and knee problems that led to replacements, limited vision in his right eye and complete blindness is his left.

Mr. Brown’s disabilities left him unable to maintain his home, resulting in substantive safety hazards. Most notably, the home’s roof had been leaking since 1992, causing extensive interior damage. Thanks to the support and partnership of Rebuilding Together with The Home Depot Foundation and the Team Depot from a near-by store, Mr. Brown’s home received a new roof, kitchen and bathroom renovations, plumbing repairs, new flooring, doors and drywall, as well as painting and landscaping.

With many seniors facing circumstances like Mr. Brown, how can cities more systematically ensure services are delivered in a coordinated and collaborative manner?

  1. Use data to identify gaps in service.

The primary funding that supports seniors comes due to the Older Americans Act through Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs). In Miami-Dade County, the AAA is the Alliance for Aging. Their work provides a “no wrong door” approach for seniors. To better understand what seniors needed, the Alliance not only held public hearings, but they surveyed front-line staff and looked at client assessments. It was recognized that a quarter of elders reported “problems” with their home, and like Mr. Brown, more than half of these seniors identified issues related to major or minor repairs, including roofing or plumbing issues.

At the core of ensuring we meet the needs of seniors is access to safe and stable housing. Cities must be able to provide seniors with the ability to not just “age in place,” but to “age in community.” The installation of wheelchair ramps, grab-bars, the lowering of counters and cabinets, widening doorways and modifying bathrooms with roll-under sinks can help seniors stay in their homes, remain as independent as possible and avoid costly long-term care facilities.

  1. Build and support partnerships that reflect your community.

To most effectively meet these housing needs of seniors, the area’s leaders recognized the needed to strategically cultivate relationships based on key population characteristics. For example, local leaders recognized that a significant number of veterans lived in the area, so they connected with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center around the VA’s Veteran Directed Home and Community Based Services program. In addition, it was recognized that low-income seniors were over-represented in specific geographic areas. To help reach these individuals, connections were made with community action agencies to help leverage resources such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Finally, the diversity of the community was reflected through partnerships with immigrant organizations and faith-based groups such as Catholic Charities and Jewish Community Services of South Florida. Through these partnerships, the AAA identified three groups to provide home modifications and/or repairs. The experience and histories of United Home Care, Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers, and 1st Quality Home Care uniquely reflect the area’s population.

  1. Understand and document the cost-savings.

In the ever-present reality of limited resources, it is critical for communities to work together so they can document the cost implications of their service coordination. Not only can this information be used to show the fiscal implications of program investments as a means of educating state and federal officials, the data can also be used as a way of exploring the potential of innovative financing mechanisms. Through its services alone, the Alliance for Aging reports the prevention of 50,359 months of nursing home care at a savings of about $201,435,168 and a rate of nursing home use per Medicaid eligible elder that is 33 percent lower than the state average.

By working with AAAs to document these impacts, cities can better target their resources to ensure they are being as effectively used as possible. In April, the Older American Act was re-authorized. Importantly though, a key section for services has received level funding ever since overall cuts that were implemented as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. This is particularly concerning in the face of the rising number of seniors in communities.

If funding is not administered through your city, it is essential that local leaders connect with the administrating entity so area residents can be directed to the existing systems in place to meet their needs. To learn what organization is the Area Agency on Aging for your community, visit www.eldercare.gov.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Homeless Encampments Are a Growing Dilemma for Cities. Here’s What Local Leaders Need to Know.

Coupled with a lack of both resources and consistent investment from federal partners, municipal officials are left in the position of not being able to implement known best practices to combat homelessness.

(Getty Images)

Recent reports have once again documented what every city leader knows – there is not enough affordable housing for low-income residents. In fact, there is no U.S. city in which a person working full-time at the federal minimum wage can afford a one-bedroom apartment. (Getty Images)

Last week, both the New York Times and the Washington Post had front page stories regarding municipal ordinances that aim to address homeless encampments. The prominence of these stories illustrates a rising tension among city leaders, homeless advocates, and federal officials when it comes to how cities confront the conflict, both perceived and real, between local businesses and individuals and families without a home.

The facts at the center of many of these cases revolve around whether there was available shelter on the night when an individual was ticketed for violating the municipal ordinance. Unfortunately, in many instances, neither side can offer evidence that documents whether shelter was available or offered.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a policy brief summarizing how communities could best implement coordinated entry systems. Proactively integrating law enforcement with homeless service providers and the community’s assessment and housing placement system provides city leaders with the opportunity to affirmatively document their interactions.

Cities would be well served by taking the additional proactive step of outlining in advance how they will handle homeless encampments. By codifying who they will work with and what resources they will utilize prior to addressing situations, cities can develop rules to guide their actions in situations that have historically been criticized for their lack of transparency and foresight.

To support cities learning from each other on this topic, NLC has recently published a review of an Indianapolis ordinance that offers a framework for action.

While recognizing that city leaders could do more by taking these steps, local governments need the authority to make policies that balance the needs of their diverse constituencies — including the homeless, businesses, community organizations, and others. In addition, it is critical that we place these ordinances in their proper context.

Despite being on the front line of community issues like homelessness, local leaders cannot adequately address these issues without the support of their county, state, and federal government partners.

Recent reports have once again documented what every city leader knows – there is not enough affordable housing for low-income residents. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) shows “a shortage of 7.2 million affordable and available rental units for the nation’s 10.4 million extremely low-income renter households.” Furthermore, NLIHC shows that renters need to earn $20.30 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

The ability of local leaders to address this crisis is limited when state officials, through action or inaction, prevent cities from raising or accessing resources. Many cities are constrained by tax and expenditure limitations, which can restrict their ability to set their own property or sales tax rates. In addition, many states have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which could unlock millions of federal dollars that local partners could use to pay for supportive services for the homeless.

Coupled with a lack of both resources and consistent investment from federal partners through annual appropriations, municipal officials are left in the position of not being able to implement known best practices.

City leaders may be well-served to harness the concern of local business leaders by developing tools that can help homeless service providers, such as landlord incentives or move-in kits – but before local officials are scapegoated for favoring one constituency over another, we must ensure they have the full support they need.

Failing to do this is a detriment to the collaboration that is necessary to make humane progress on encampments, as they become a tragic reality in more and more urban spaces.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Top 3 Takeaways From the First Lady’s Address on Veteran Homelessness

First Lady Michelle Obama addressed and thanked city officials and the National League of Cities (NLC) for their support of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness as part of NLC’s 2016 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C.

Addressing by video more than 2,000 city leaders in Washington, D.C. as part of the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference, First Lady Michelle Obama applauded the historic commitment to veteran homelessness by city officials and NLC through the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

Since launching in June of 2014 as part of Joining Forces, more than 850 elected officials across 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have accepted the Mayors Challenge.

The First Lady highlighted three key elements as part of her address:

  1. Success is Possible

Since establishing the Mayors Challenge, 21 communities and two states have effectively ended veteran homelessness. These achievements illustrate that it is possible to build a community system that can ensure veteran homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring.

  1. Impacts Are Real

In the last year alone, more than 157,000 veterans and their families have secured or remained in permanent housing. Since 2010, veteran homelessness is down 36 percent and unsheltered veteran homelessness has been cut by almost half.

  1. Our Commitment to Veterans Must Be Permanent

The progress on veteran homelessness cannot stop. As long as we have men and women serving in our armed forces, there will always be veterans who may fall on hard times and need help. It is our duty to serve them as they have served us.

The National League of Cities is proud to be a key partner with the Administration on this effort since Day One. Click here for more information about how NLC can support your city’s efforts.

NLC has also published success stories that reveal in detail how the cities of Phoenix, Houston, New Orleans, and the Commonwealth of Virginia have accomplished monumental achievements.

These case studies can provide step-by-step examples for city leaders who wish to join the Mayors Challenge and make a real commitment to ending veteran homelessness.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Partnerships in Phoenix Bring Veterans Home

The city has made dramatic progress in housing homeless veterans thanks to bold leadership and community partnerships.

Phoenix’s approach of partnering with expert affordable housing developers and service providers, as well as educational institutions, the medical and mental health communities, and philanthropies, offers cities a blueprint for how local officials can make good on their commitment to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. (Getty Images)

Phoenix’s approach of partnering with expert affordable housing developers and service providers, as well as educational institutions, the medical and mental health communities, and philanthropies, offers cities a blueprint for how local officials can make good on their commitment to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. (Getty Images)

If you are younger than 40, you likely have no memory of a time when persistent and chronic homelessness wasn’t a part of most major cities.

If you are older than 40, you witnessed the emergence of chronic homelessness in the early 1980’s, its persistent presence in urban landscapes and may have come to the conclusion that there is simply nothing that can be done about it.

Despite this, the past two years have seen the emergence of a historic level of local leaders committed to showing that homelessness need not be a permanent fixture in communities. As part of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, 859 local leaders across 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have committed to ensuring all Veterans and their families have a place to call home.

As 2016 begins, we have a chance to see how specific communities are doing on this issue. One city that has made dramatic progress is Phoenix thanks to bold leadership and community partnerships.

During his inaugural address in 2012, Mayor Greg Stanton pledged that ending chronic homelessness was a priority. To achieve this goal, the Mayor and the community made the conscious decision to focus on the city’s chronically homeless veterans as a first sub-population. Mayor Stanton and community leaders recognized that focusing on veteran homelessness was the gateway that would allow them to ensure all veterans and all those experiencing homelessness could obtain the services they need.

Once all veterans have a place to call home, the next step is to look at what is needed to maintain that housing. Employment, job training, education, medical care, and mental health supports can only be successful when someone is stably housed. Making sure these supports flow from a housing-centered focus is known as a Housing First strategy and has been at the core of Phoenix’s Project H3VETS Initiative.

ProjectH3 VETS grew out of the Maricopa County team that was a part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Lead by the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, the initiative is comprised of leaders from non-profits such as the United Way, federal, state, and city government, affordable housing developers and businesses across the Greater Phoenix area. Project H3 VETS has continued to lead the community’s response to house all homeless Veterans as efforts evolved through initiatives such as the VA’s 25 Cities.

Two housing developments that uniquely illustrate the collaborative approach of the Phoenix community are Grand Veterans Village and Victory Place. Developed and operated by U.S. VETS and Cloudbreak Communities, respectively, the projects were made possible through coordination with philanthropies, veteran service organizations, non-profits, local universities, the state and the city.

The Grand Veterans Village development converted a 134-unit motel into 107 long-term supportive housing and 24 units of permanent housing for homeless veterans, including 15 women veterans.

Funding to rehabilitate the old motel units came in part from philanthropies such as The Home Depot Foundation. Support from the Foundation helped with the installation of kitchenettes, refrigerators, counter tops and double sinks in rooms. Funding also supported the creation of multiple community spaces including a computer room, lounge, counseling offices and an outdoor living space, which included a community garden. In addition, associates from Home Depot’s local retail stores volunteered on three separate occasions. As part of the company’s Team Depot, associates helped paint, lay flooring, and landscape the complex.

Complementing these contributions, local service organizations such as the Elks Lodge, American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars adopted individual rooms. Their support provided furnishings such as bedding, plates and utensils. In addition, Good 360 and Sleep America provided new mattresses for each room.

Team Depot volunteers build a community garden at Grand Veterans Village. Collaboration between the City of Phoenix, non-profits, federal and state partners and philanthropies such as The Home Depot Foundation have been central to providing housing for homeless Veterans. (photo: The Home Depot Foundation)

Team Depot volunteers build a community garden at Grand Veterans Village. Collaboration between the City of Phoenix, non-profits, federal and state partners and philanthropies such as The Home Depot Foundation have been central to providing housing for homeless Veterans. (photo: U.S. Vets)

Notably, as a result of this support for the project, Grand Veterans Village was completed without the use of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs), the nation’s largest program supporting the development and preservation of affordable housing. This demonstrates that there are multiple ways to create affordable housing for homeless veterans through creativity and collaboration.

A variety of lessons and supports needed by formerly homeless veterans are provided with help from social work students from Arizona State University and Arizona State University School of Nursing. Residents are offered groups on budgeting, hygiene and nutrition. Nursing students provide residents with information on illnesses such as diabetes and offer self-care education around checking their glucose levels and blood pressure.

The development is located on Grand Avenue in Phoenix, which is accessible to the city’s buses and the VA hospital is approximately 15 minutes away providing access for residents to VA medical care. U.S. Vets provides residents with weekly shuttle rides to area food banks and a supermarket is across the street.

Another development that illustrates the impact of broad partnerships across the community is Victory Place, a five-acre campus comprised of four residential and one commercial phases of development. Cloudbreak Communities, with U.S. VETS as the primary support services partner, began master planning the veterans-specific community in 2002.

Cloudbreak Communities began leasing units in January of 2016 at part of their latest phase of development, Victory Place Phase IV. The latest component to Victory Place is a 96-unit addition to the existing permanent supportive housing units on the campus now totaling 203 units, plus 70 beds of transitional housing operated by U.S. VETS.

The latest phase features 30 one-bedroom and 66 studio apartments all dedicated to providing affordable and supportive housing for homeless, formerly homeless and low-income veterans. While many of the units are supported with HUD-VASH housing vouchers, a partnership with the Arizona Behavioral Health Corporation is providing 30 rental subsidies for chronically homeless veterans with a diagnosed serious mental illness who are not able to utilize the HUD-VASH program.

The Victory Place Campus still plans a fifth commercial phase of development to create an community health clinic on-site to include VA and Medicaid health services and plans to acquire an adjacent two acres to continue residential development. The Campus was completed throughout its phases using City of Phoenix and State HOME financing, LIHTC, other State resources and private equity.

The units made available at Grand Veterans Village and Victory Place are part of Phoenix’s housing stock that are paired with homeless veterans through the community’s coordinated assessment system operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC).

When a homeless veteran in Phoenix is identified, service providers across the city use a common assessment tool to help determine what supports and services a homeless individual needs. By using a common assessment, all of the area’s homeless are prioritized for assistance based on their acute need, rather than receiving services on a first come first serve basis.

Prioritizing housing and services in this way allows Phoenix to more efficiently and effectively use the community’s limited resources. In addition, prioritization allows the city to reduce the costs associated with homelessness, such as police and first-responder engagement, legal system costs and emergency room expenses.

The use of a common assessment tool has allowed Phoenix service providers to make sure homeless veterans get the personalized help they need. To help place homeless veterans into the most appropriate environment as quickly as possible, even when a housing voucher may not be immediately available, the 25 Cities system uses money from the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program to get the veteran into their new home until the process for using a housing voucher to keep them in their new home is completed.

Phoenix’s approach of partnering with expert affordable housing developers and service providers, as well as educational institutions, the medical and mental health communities, and philanthropies, offers cities a blueprint for how local officials can make good on their commitment to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

In 2015, Phoenix housed more than 715 homeless veterans and illustrated what progress looks like. While more work remains, the community has put in place a system that is more rapidly responding to the needs of homeless and at-risk Veterans than ever before.

The challenge of Veteran homelessness will never fully disappear. Every day new Veterans will lose their jobs, face housing insecurity, medical emergencies or need to get away from unsafe living environments. However, as cities like Phoenix come together to strengthen the way they respond to these situations, they provide proof that homelessness is not intractable and can indeed be rare, brief and non-recurring.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

How Two Ohio Cities Used Partnerships to House Veterans

Cities like Parma, Ohio, are partnering with organizations such as Purple Heart Homes and The Home Depot Foundation to ensure aging veterans and those with service-connected disabilities have safe housing. (Photos: Purple Heart Homes)

Cities in the Cleveland area are increasingly using the opportunity to rally their communities in support of housing for veterans, including aging veterans and those with service-connected disabilities.

In the face of limited local and federal resources, the cities of Parma and South Euclid have begun to partner with nonprofits to build, preserve, or adapt the homes of aging veterans as well as those with service-connected disabilities. These partnerships allow the cities to maximize the use of traditional programs used to rehabilitate or adapt homes for seniors and those with special needs, such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

From 1966-1972, as part of the Vietnam War, Parma resident Dale Dunmire served in the U.S. Navy. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal, and returned home where he began a 35-year career with Cuyahoga County Corrections and the Sherriff’s Office.

After a 2014 operation left Mr. Dunmire wheelchair-bound, he had a ramp installed to help him get in and out of his home. Following an insurance denial for the ramp, the durable medical supply company offered to finance the metal ramp for $325 a month – an amount which Dale could not afford. The ramp was repossessed, leaving Dale home-bound and unable to continue his physical therapy.

As Dale and his family began grappling with their new reality, his Medicare provider connected him to Purple Heart Homes (PHH). PHH is a non-profit started by Dale Beatty and John Gallina, both service-connected disabled veterans of the Iraq War, to provide housing solutions to aging veterans and fellow service-connected disabled veterans.

To build Mr. Dunmire’s ramp, PHH worked closely with both the City of Parma and The Home Depot Foundation. In addition, volunteer associates from the local retail Home Depot, known as “Team Depot,” were key partners. Joining this team were local contractors who provided expertise and local restaurants that provided volunteers with food.

“Our city’s motto is ‘Progress Through Partnerships,’” said Parma Mayor Tim DeGeeter. “I couldn’t think of a better example that illustrates this.”

To help the project, the city waived the permit fees affiliated with the work. “Our city was happy to help in a small way in terms of the permit fees – but overall, we have limited resources to do this type of work for our residents,” said Mayor DeGeeter. “We aren’t in a position to use a lot of CDBG money for home accessibility projects and we have only some money available through our senior center. By working with Purple Heart Homes, and thanks to the support of our local Team Depot, The Home Depot Foundation, and the good will of our community, we were able to make sure that a veteran who has called Parma home for more than 20 years can continue to do so.”

In South Euclid, another Cleveland suburb in Cuyahoga County, the city worked with Purple Heart Homes, Inc. to revitalize foreclosed properties and provide homes for two service-connected disabled veterans. Working with One South Euclid (a nonprofit citizens group), the North East Ohio Foundation for Patriotism (NEOPAT), and local contractors and suppliers, two previously foreclosed vacant properties that were acquired by the Cuyahoga Land Bank were rehabilitated and provided to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Thanks to the property contributed by the land bank for these projects, the overall cost of each home was dramatically reduced. PHH then worked with the city, which agreed to waive contractor registration fees and permitting expenses and expedite the inspection process for the homes.

Once again, PHH’s involvement with the city rallied the community’s support, and volunteers provided much of the needed labor to rehab each home. During the volunteer days when building was happening, the city provided extra police to direct traffic and manage the increased need for parking.

As a result of low land and labor costs, each home is financed with low-cost mortgages that are paid in part by the veteran, with a second soft mortgage held by PHH that diminishes over time and conditionally gifts 50 percent of the home value. A deed restriction ensures each home will remain owner-occupied by a veteran, and over time, the veteran accrues equity in the home, which they are able to take with them in the event they choose to move to another location.

On January 25, 2016, after seeing the value of their work for both veterans and cities in the region, PHH moved to solidify their presence and held the first meeting of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of Purple Heart Homes. The organization’s chapter will bring together the networks and experiences established during each of these projects to more cities in the area.

Cities are increasingly facing the challenges of an aging population with varying degrees of disabilities. Previous CitiesSpeak articles have talked about the value that can be found by focusing on the issue of housing and the veteran sub-population.

As cities in Ohio have seen, a focus on veteran housing provides leaders with the opportunity to learn what works, which stakeholders and programs can be best aligned, and how to best bring communities together to meet the housing needs of their neighbors.

For more information on Purple Heart Homes visit purplehearthomesusa.org, and for more information about The Home Depot Foundation visit homedepotfoundation.org.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Three Ways This State Is Housing All Homeless Veterans

On a day when the nation pauses to give thanks for the sacrifices made by Veterans and their families, Virginians are celebrating that all of their Veterans have access to the basic dignity of a place to call home.

Today, Governor Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro, and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) Executive Director Matthew Doherty announced that the Commonwealth of Virginia had achieved the historic accomplishment of ensuring all Veterans are on the path to a safe, stable place to call home by housing more Veterans than are being identified as homeless each month.

Gov. McAuliffe, Sec. Castro and Matthew Doherty make historic announcement at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of HUD)

Since October 2014, the Commonwealth has housed 1,432 Veterans and their families. Earlier this year, an estimated 605 Veterans were homeless.

“Even in declaring our victory with this battle, the war is still not over,” said Governor McAuliffe. “We must remain committed to keeping homelessness among veterans, and, all Virginians, to being rare, brief and non-recurring.

The progress made by Virginia has come as the result of an unprecedented focus on the issue by all levels of government. But local, state and federal officials were not alone. They were joined by the non-profit and business communities, which recognized the need to transform the systems that serve Veterans. For the first time, Virginia has shown how an entire state can implement data-driven best practices that ensure available resources are used effectively and efficiently.

The Path to Success

Local Leadership

Since June 2014, after more than 30 years of being viewed as an unsolvable fixture of modern life, 854 local leaders have stepped forward to give their commitment to housing all Veterans through the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. The National League of Cities is proud to be the lead partner with the Administration in this effort.

Across Virginia, 18 mayors and 2 county executives joined with Gov. McAuliffe on the Mayors Challenge. Their leadership has brought attention and focus to homeless Veterans in their city and across the state in ways never seen before.

The Governor’s commitment resulted a redoubling of efforts guided by the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness, the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness.

Systems Coordination

With high-level support from state and local leaders, non-profits in communities such as Richmond, Roanoke, South Hampton Roads and the Peninsula area, as well as other cities across the Commonwealth, joined with experts from Community Solutions and the Rapid Results Institute. Together with representatives from area public housing authorities, HUD and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, these stakeholders began communicating and coordinating in a variety of new ways.

Importantly, all of the partners agreed on the principal of Housing First. Recognizing that the solution to homelessness is housing, Housing First puts housing and the services needed to successfully maintain a home as the first line of treatment.

In the past, homeless individuals and families were regularly required to go through shelters and/or transitional housing programs, which may require lengths of sobriety or participation in other programs prior to placement into housing. This line of treatment is both expensive and prolongs a person’s instability, which can perpetuate problems at the core of an individual’s homelessness.

In addition to using the Housing First model, community partners began coordinating their assessment processes and prioritizing clients for placement into housing. This coordination allows VA staff and non-profit partners to consolidate their lists of individuals and families coming to them for assistance. Beyond the consolidation of lists, the coordination has allowed communities to develop a by name list of people experiencing homelessness and understand which person needs to access housing most urgently to avoid death.

No longer are homeless Veterans known as “that guy by the I-95 underpass.”

Instead, “that guy” is James, a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran with diabetes who has previously been treated for mental illness and substance abuse, and has lived on the street for more than 15 years.

Community partners not only know James by name, but they know which organization has an available housing voucher. They have a deeper sense of his medical and mental health needs. They know which organization can work with James to find a home. They know which organization can develop and implement a treatment plan that will allow him to keep his home and transition to a new chapter of life.

Available Resources

For the first time since modern homelessness has emerged, cities and community partners have been given the resources they need to tackle the issue. The focus on the Veteran subpopulation has generated bi-partisan support for programs such as the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program and the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program.

Since fiscal year 2008, more than 1,260 HUD-VASH vouchers have been made available in Virginia. In the past three years, the VA’s SSVF program has provided communities in the Commonwealth with more than $5.1 million for homelessness prevention and rapid-rehousing efforts.

The availability of these resources in the Commonwealth and across the country has been the difference between the rhetoric of supporting our Veterans and making a meaningful, lasting impact on the lives of tens of thousands of men, women and children nationwide.

In Virginia, Gov. McAuliffe recognized the need to supplement these federal investments. He designated $500,000 of a new $1 million program to help veterans access housing through the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development. He also proposed increasing the number of housing resource specialists working as part of Virginia’s Veteran and Family Support program under the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. The specialists support veterans as they navigate the housing process and connect them with needed services.

These new levels of partnership, coordination and investment inspired the engagement of businesses to also make contributions. Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power Company have made commitments to help Veterans meet their energy needs in their new homes.

Parades and proclamations are laudable ways to honor our Veterans. But the true measure of our appreciation is shown in the lives of our Veterans.

Virginia’s achievement brings the progress already seen in cities across the country to a new level. Communities such as New Orleans, Houston, Winston-Salem and Mobile have made similar announcements this year. As the first state in the nation to make this announcement, Virginia is showing that large-scale success can be achieved when local leaders commit to a bold goal and do not relent.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Ensuring All Veterans Have Safe Housing Requires All Hands on Deck

In recent years, dramatic progress has been made across the nation in the effort to reduce Veteran homelessness thanks to strategic planning, bold leadership, and unprecedented community collaboration. These elements are being paired with data-driven strategies that have resulted in a nationwide decline of 33 percent since 2010. This progress is paving the way for success in other sub-groups of the homeless population.

While headway on Veteran homelessness is notable by itself, the efforts also offer insight about how city leaders can ensure all Veterans have a safe place to call home.

Members of Team Depot build a community garden in Los Angeles. Philanthropies such as The Home Depot Foundation are increasingly important partners as cities aim to address multiple challenges. (photo: Elijah Harig-Blaine)

The Anatomy of Success: Strategic Planning

Beginning in 2010, the federal government’s response to homelessness became guided by the Opening Doors strategic plan. For the first time, the plan broke the nation’s work on homelessness into specific sub-populations. The first sub-population was Veterans. Bringing focus to a specific sub-population is one approach to make progress on municipal challenges.

Another way to make progress, is by bringing focus to a specific issue. In nearly every city across the country, access to safe, affordable housing is a challenge. This year’s State of the Cities report found housing as one of the top ten issues receiving significant coverage in mayoral addresses.

Like homelessness, progress on addressing housing overall can be made with a focus on Veterans. Realizing this progress comes when cities use the dual lenses of Veterans and housing to guide how existing programs and municipal networks are utilized.

Bold Leadership & Community Collaboration

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti used his State of the Cities address to announce that in the past year, the city had decreased Veteran homelessness by 50%. Across the city and county of Los Angeles, community stakeholders have housed 6,538 Veterans since June 2014.

To continue this progress, access to housing is key. A first step taken by city leaders and federal partners is to engage property owners and managers of existing market-rate housing. In June, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald joined the Mayor and others in calling on landlords to join local efforts.

In addition to increasing access to existing market-rate housing, there is the need to increase the supply of affordable housing and preserve existing affordable housing. To support these goals, the Mayor Garcetti has proposed an additional $10 million for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF). Recognizing the need to tie the emerging sharing economy to the pragmatic needs of residents with lower-incomes, the Mayor proposed generating $5 million for the AHTF from taxes collected for the first time from Airbnb.

These resources are particularly needed in the face of past and proposed cuts to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the HOME Investment Partnerships program (HOME). In addition to program cuts, the demand for affordable housing is exacerbated as the affordability restrictions on thousands of housing units are ending. In the next five years, in California alone, at least 1,380 properties will have a subsidy expire, impacting the affordability of at least 100,181 units of housing.

To meet these challenges, cities are increasingly building collaborative partnerships beyond their existing relationships with non-profits and the federal and state government. Recognizing the unique role foundations can play in bridging the gap in services, cities are turning to the philanthropic sector to help meet the housing needs of Veterans.

Using Data to Drive Decision-Making

Tragically, Veterans are over-represented among the homeless.

Nationwide, Veterans comprise 8.1 percent of the general population. However, with the homeless population, 8.6 percent are Veterans. This over-representation is particularly seen in the unsheltered homeless population, where 10 percent are Veterans. In Los Angeles city and county, these numbers are even starker. Veterans comprise only 3.6 percent of the overall population, but are 10.8 percent of the overall homeless population and 11.3 percent of the unsheltered homeless population.

In addition to being over-represented in the homeless population, the percentage of Veterans who are seniors is significantly greater than the general population. Nationwide, 47.3 percent of Veterans are over the age of 65, compared to 15.9 percent of non-Veterans. In Los Angeles city and county, the numbers are again striking. In Los Angeles city and county, 53.2 percent of Veterans are over the age of 65, compared to 13.6 percent of non-Veterans.

These facts show that by using the lenses of housing and Veterans, city officials and their partners can not only make progress in these areas, but also position the community to better address the housing needs of other sub-populations, such as seniors.

One illustration of a housing development at this intersection is the Guy Gabaldon project. Developed by the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), the 33 unit facility is operated by New Directions for Veterans and exclusively serves Veterans aged 55 and older.

Finished in September 2014, the project was fully leased in less than three months as a result of being part of Los Angeles’ coordinated entry system developed as part of the Home for Good campaign. Staff from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs work with New Directions to provide on-site supportive services to clients. Amenities include a community garden, a community room with gym equipment and on-site laundry facilities. All units are furnished and as they moved in, Veterans were provided a “move-in” kit with paper products, toiletries and other essentials.

To allow the units to be affordable for homeless senior Veterans, ELACC used Los Angeles’ AHTF, Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs) as well as project-based HUD-VASH vouchers. Additional funding came from the Federal Reserve’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP) and The Home Depot Foundation. Similar support for housing developments serving Veterans from The Home Depot Foundation has helped cities build or preserve more than 17,000 units of housing. Over the past three years, the Foundation has invested more than $90 million in projects supporting Veterans and their families.

In addition, volunteer groups of Home Depot associates known as Team Depots have worked on more than 3,780 projects building or improving homes for Veterans. Just in California, The Home Depot Foundation has supported 622 projects impacting 2,520 units of housing benefitting Veterans with either financial or volunteer support.

While the role of philanthropies is critical, in the face of declining resources for affordable housing, cities are increasingly making systems changes to use the funds more efficiently. In 2013, Los Angeles began developing a “managed pipeline” to guide the distribution of LIHTCs, as well as support the coordination of allocations from the various state programs.

The “managed pipeline” has evolved to support 24 projects every 24 months. Every six months, six projects are moved forward and six new projects enter the pipeline. The result has been more certainty for developers, providing them the confidence to move forward with pre-development outlays and stronger applications for additional support from financial institutions, philanthropies, housing authorities and others. By initially focusing on the housing needs of homeless Veterans and gradually expanding the community coordination efforts to ensure all Veterans have access safe housing solutions, cities lay the groundwork for all community members to be housed.

Despite consistently encouraging news about the growth of city workforces, it is likely that support for affordable housing programs will continue to face fiscal constraints. For cities to create and grow relationships with committed philanthropic partners, local leaders must be strategic in how existing resources are used. Focusing on a specific population, such as Veterans, and a specific issue, such as housing, is one way cities can help ensure meaningful investments benefit all community members in the long-term.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Houston Becomes Largest City to Effectively End Veteran Homelessness

Last week, Houston Mayor Annise Parker joined hundreds of service providers, community members and business leaders to announce that the city had built the system necessary to effectively end veteran homelessness.

Mayor Annise Parker discusses how Houston effectively ended veteran homelessness.

Mayor Annise Parker discusses how Houston effectively ended veteran homelessness at the official announcement event on Monday, June 1. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

“Too often those that answered the call of service still find themselves struggling long after leaving the military. Houston is there for our heroes, and just like on the battlefield, we will leave no one behind,” said Mayor Parker. “From regular provider coordination meetings and aligning local and federal resources, to dedicated street outreach teams and a coordinated assessment system that identifies, assesses, refers and navigates homeless veterans to housing, the Houston region has come together as a team to transform our homeless response system to effectively end veteran homelessness.”

Joining Mayor Parker were Representatives Al Green, Shelia Jackson Lee and Gene Green, as well as the Secretaries of the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Labor and the Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). The senior Administration officials attended the announcement as part of a three-city tour urging cities to mirror the success seen in Houston.

Houston is the largest city to make historic progress on veteran homelessness. In January, New Orleans announced it had reached a similar milestone and previously, Phoenix and Salt Lake City had announced an end to chronic veteran homelessness in their cities.

As the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston also has one of the nation’s largest veteran populations. During her remarks, Mayor Parker noted that Texas is one of the largest states contributing men and women to the military and that many veterans come to Houston following their service because of its economic opportunities.

Both the mayor and federal officials used their remarks to recognize the unfortunate reality that some veterans will experience housing instability and may become homeless. However, because the city has now built a coordinated system, once a homeless or at-risk veteran is identified, the community has the resources and ability to rapidly place the veteran into housing.

To make this system a reality, over 35 local agencies worked together under a collaboration called The Way Home. Collectively, in just over three years, this response system has housed more than 3,650 homeless veterans.

To help cities better understand what it means to meet the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, USICH has developed 10 Strategies to End Veteran Homelessness and issued criteria that communities who have joined the challenge can use to determine if they have built a system that effectively ends veteran homelessness.

One year ago, Mayor Parker was among the first mayors to join the Mayors Challenge. During the June 2014 launch of the challenge at the White House, Mayor Parker spoke about the progress already being seen in Houston. Twelve months later, Mayor Parker joins Mayors Becker, Stanton and Landrieu as local leaders who understand what the end of veteran homelessness looks like and have rallied their communities to make similar historic progress.

With only six months to go until we reach the ambitious timeline set to end veteran homelessness nationwide, local leaders have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the landscape of how we understand and deal with homelessness.

Through the Mayors Challenge, elected officials across the country have stepped forward to give their support to ending homelessness for our veterans. Community stakeholders have more than 600 officials waiting to hear specific and pragmatic requests that can help house our veterans more rapidly.

This show of support by elected officials has never happened before and may never happen again.

In the remaining months, community partners must make tangible requests and engage elected officials with local data on progress being made and the needs moving forward. By illustrating the success that can happen with the active support of elected officials, communities can better partner with local leaders to advocate for the resources necessary to continue the progress seen on veteran homelessness and extend the progress to other homeless sub-populations.

Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix and Salt Lake City have recognized these facts and seized this opportunity.

Make your city the next to create history.

To read Houston’s announcement, click here.
To read NLC’s press release on the achievement, click here.
For more information on how to end veteran homelessness in your city, visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing or email harig-blaine@nlc.org.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.