How Cities Can Acquire Free Land to House and Serve Homeless People

This webinar on April 25 will discuss the release of a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for vacant federal properties that can be used to help the homeless in your city.

One largely untapped resource for addressing homelessness and the affordable housing crisis is vacant federal property. (Getty Images)

Cities across the country are struggling with rising housing costs and shrinking federal supports, leaving millions of people homeless or at risk, including a record 1.4 million children of school age. With city budgets stretched to their limits, it is critical that local governments make full use of all available resources — and vacant federal property is a largely untapped resource.

The federal government is the largest single owner of real estate in the nation. Every year, the federal government determines that thousands of properties — including warehouses, office buildings and vacant land — are no longer needed. When such a determination is made, a federal program authorized under Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides local governments and nonprofit organizations with the right of first refusal to these properties to serve homeless people. Better yet, these properties are transferred to eligible homeless service providers for free.

Approximately 500 buildings and nearly 900 acres of land have been transferred to cities and other eligible homeless service providers in more than 30 states under Title V, with over two million people served each year. Federal surplus property is used to create emergency shelters, transitional housing for domestic violence survivors, and permanent supportive housing for mentally ill veterans, in addition to office and warehouse space.

Recently, the law was amended to clarify that surplus federal properties can be used for permanent housing with or without supportive services. This important clarification to the law will allow cities access to millions of dollars in federal real property assets to reduce or even end homelessness in a sustainable and cost-effective way — without paying for title to the properties.

On April 25, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) will release a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for properties under Title V and will host a webinar to discuss the toolkit at 2:00 p.m. EDT. You can register for the webinar here. The toolkit will be available on the NLCHP website.

(NLCHP)

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

Public Health and Housing: You Can’t Have One Without the Other

Partnerships that create a solid connection between housing and healthcare can offer a multitude of benefits for cities, including lower long-term healthcare costs, better educational opportunities, and employment that can help raise income levels.

The approach taken by cities like Phoenix, Arizona, of partnering with expert affordable housing developers as well as educational institutions and the medical and mental health communities offers cities a blueprint for how local officials can ensure public health is improved by focusing on housing and supportive services. (Getty Images)

For more than 20 years, the first full week of April has been designated across the country as National Public Health Week.

Notably, this year’s celebration comes on the heels of failed efforts to reform the nation’s healthcare system. While the president and Congress reassess policy options, some states have begun to reconsider whether or not to expand Medicaid.

It is well documented that housing improves outcomes related to health and education, but there is a symbiotic relationship between health and housing. Housing supports health, but in order for someone to thrive in housing, they must be connected to individualized supports that help them maintain their housing.

This understanding is a key component of the Housing First strategy that has emerged in the last 15 years as central to ending homelessness. Connections to medical, mental and dental health are not only good for individuals and families, but they are also fiscally prudent policies that lower long-term healthcare costs. In addition, individuals with stable housing and healthcare are better positioned to pursue educational opportunities and employment that can help raise income levels.

Many of the 31 states that have expanded Medicaid access have begun working in a variety of fashions to integrate Medicaid services with housing.

In California, integrating healthcare supports with housing helped the development of 69 apartments for very low- and extremely low-income seniors, veterans and homeless veterans.

With an increasingly aging community, the city of American Canyon recognized the need to partner with affordable housing developers, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and philanthropies to increase the amount of available housing with on-site services.

With support from the Home Depot Foundation, these local and federal partners joined together with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates to develop cottages with centralized parking, walking paths, recreational spaces and a community clubhouse to support wellness activities, independent living and aging-in-place.

Volunteer associates that are part of a Team Depot in Nashua, New Hampshire pack supplies to help veterans in need. (The Home Depot Foundation)

In Nashua, New Hampshire, Harbor Homes, Inc. provides low-income, homeless and disabled community members with affordable housing, primary and behavioral health care, employment and job training, and supportive services. Their holistic approach to care has consistently shown better outcomes for clients and the community. As a federally-qualified health center, Harbor Homes not only provides access to healthcare, but they have also developed and manage numerous housing sites to help connect these services to individuals and families.

Two weeks ago, at Harbor Homes, federal officials joined Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess in celebrating the city’s certification as the latest community to have met the benchmarks and criteria for achieving the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

“We have a long tradition of service here in Nashua,” said Mayor Donchess, “and we take care of our own. Thanks to the efforts of community partners like Harbor Homes, and with the support of federal, state and local resources, we are able to celebrate this achievement. This challenge is a commitment that we have made and we will keep. It requires vigilance and dedication.”

As in California, the Home Depot Foundation has partnered with Harbor Homes and others to ensure veterans and their families have safe housing. Due to Harbor Homes being able to support veterans and others placed into housing with services and resources provided through Medicaid, investments by other partners (such as the city and the state, as well as the quarter of a billion dollars committed by the Home Depot Foundation to veteran-related causes) can be leveraged to help more individuals and families.

With Dr. Ben Carson now at the helm of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city leaders have a secretary who has consistently talked about the importance of housing as it relates to health. In the weeks to come, local officials should ensure these connections are fully understood by Congress as the federal budget is developed.

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

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.

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