Local nonprofits say they will lose out with changes in HUD funding

A change in how federal funds are allocated to local housing programs has upset some nonprofits that stand to lose out.

The county’s Homeless Advisory Board voted earlier this week to not ask for federal funding for transitional housing, in favor of other types of programs, including “rapid rehousing.”

Marc Cherna, director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, said the county is responding to federal preferences about the best way to solve homelessness.

“HUD periodically changes their priorities. If you don’t stay ahead of that curve, you lose, you don’t get funded,” Mr. Cherna said, referring to funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Allegheny County gets about $18.5 million in HUD funds for homelessness, Mr. Cherna said; about $3.8 million goes to 11 agencies and 18 programs that provide “transitional housing” — essentially a step where people can stay up to 24 months between an emergency homeless shelter and a permanent home.

Among the affected agencies is HEARTH, a 20-unit transitional housing facility based in Shaler that serves families made homeless by domestic violence.

The decision would shift about $500,000 in federal funding the agency now counts on for about half of its transitional-housing budget, said executive director Judy Eakin. Ms. Eakin said she understands federal policy is shifting away from supporting transitional housing programs, but she believes the domestic violence victims served by her agency are a unique population.

“Providing necessary housing to victims of domestic violence must not be a priority,” she said.

Ms. Eakin also said her agency is very successful in helping the women it serves find employment and eventually, permanent housing.

HEARTH sued Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services last year over an unrelated issue; the suit was settled out of court.

The funding changes will likely mean Clairton-based Sisters Place, which assists homeless single-parent families, will have to change some of how it serves its clients, who are mostly homeless single mothers.

“HUD has been talking about this for years, and the providers have not really agreed with it, to be honest with you,” said Sister Mary Parks, the agency’s executive director.

But the shift in funding toward so-called “rapid rehousing” and away from transitional housing is clearly happening at the federal level, she said. Rapid rehousing essentially seeks to put families and individuals in permanent housing as quickly as possible, and provide supports for them there.

“I don’t see another option for [the county], even though none of us like it,” she added.

Sister Mary said in her experience, a period of time in transitional housing is needed to help families gain stability before being able to live on their own.

“My experience tells me, they need more support. But I also see the county’s point. You can’t lose millions of dollars meant to help the homeless,” she said.

A 2015 research report from The Urban Institute noted that research is still limited about how effective rapid rehousing is compared with other methods of combating homelessness.

“[E]arly evaluation and program data indicate that rapid re-housing reduces returns to homelessness,” the report found, but noted further research is required. It also noted this method does not necessarily solve long-term housing affordability issues.

Transitional housing programs can be costly, the same report noted — about $40 to $149 a night, depending on the city, or $1,200 to $4,470 a month — and not always successful.

Mr. Cherna said he believes all of the local agencies currently being funded “can adapt to what we need them to do,” and there will not be any overall loss of beds for those who are homeless.

“If we did not try to meet … HUD’s priorities, we run a significant risk of losing millions of dollars to this county for homeless services,” he said.

By Kate Giammarise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette >