Establishing a Federal Fund for Homelessness Prevention
It’s well known that an acute financial emergency is often the breaking point that makes someone become homeless. Perhaps it’s a matter of missed rental payments or utility bills. Sometimes it comes in the form of a medical bill or inexpensive car repairs. Sometimes someone just can’t gather the funds to put down a security deposit. These are the kinds of expenses that can destabilize a person’s housing and push them into shelter – or the streets. Many providers use a combination of charitable, local, state, and federal dollars to administer or carry out programs to prevent homelessness and housing insecurity. By providing nominal sums of money on a limited or one-time basis (along with housing stability-related services) these programs have saved many low-income individuals and families from falling into homelessness.
Potential Federal ResourcesThe Eviction Crisis Act (S. 3030), which was introduced in December, would establish an emergency assistance fund at the federal level to provide short-term financial assistance and housing services to renters in danger of eviction. The bill is bipartisan, introduced by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and has attracted three cosponsors, including Senators Todd Young (R-IN) as well as Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who is the ranking member on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee. Efforts are underway to identify sponsors for comparable legislation in the House. Under Section 8 of S. 3030, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would award grants to state, local, and Tribal governments to establish “crisis assistance programs” to help extremely low-income households avoid housing instability and homelessness; and those governments may in turn designate entities to carry out the programs. An eligible household may not receive assistance for more than one 90-day period during each calendar year. No less than 75% of the amount received by a grantee may be used on financial assistance, and no more than 25% of that amount could be used on housing stability-related services, as the bill is written. Section 8 also includes a list of factors for the Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture to consider in the establishment of criteria for awarding grants. Geographic diversity must be considered in awarding grants. Given the finite resources and the immense scope of the housing crisis, the legislation includes a comprehensive evaluation process to help policymakers identify the best methods for ensuring that assistance goes to those extremely low-income households who need help the most and have no other recourse. It would be up to the appropriators, pursuant to the annual Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations Bill, to determine levels of funding for the federal emergency assistance programs that would be established under S. 3030. Obviously, it is imperative that money not be diverted from the Continuum of Care and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) programs to pay for the emergency assistance programs. (Of note, ESG funds can already be used for homelessness prevention, but are more commonly allocated to shelter and re-housing efforts.)
Building SupportIn order to induce the Senate Banking Committee’s consideration on this legislation, it will be necessary to build support for S. 3030, ideally through cosponsorships of the legislation by committee Republicans. Most Congressional offices are unaware of the homelessness prevention efforts helping their constituents back home, and would greatly benefit hearing from providers in their districts: the most qualified people to make this case. S. 3030 also includes valuable provisions that would strengthen tenant protections. These include language to:
- fund efforts by state and local governments to use landlord-tenant courts, particularly if tenants are actually represented, and
- establish a database to track evictions in order to develop more informed housing policies.