There is a formidable barrier to escape from an abusive home. It is, simply, the specter of homelessness. It is human nature to fear the unknown more than the familiar. The victim of intimate partner violence may be struggling just to put one foot in front the other each day. While Domestic Violence service providers may know about programs like Housing Choice vouchers (formerly Section 8) they also know how long the wait lists can be. And there’s good reason – there is an affordable housing crisis in the U.S.
On September 15, 2011 domestic violence programs across the U.S. served 36,332 homeless victims in emergency shelters or transitional housing. On that same day 6,714 requests for housing assistance went unfilled as providers were maxed out on beds and vouchers.
That amounts to 43,046 people fleeing domestic violence in one day. The number may be a little low because only 87% of domestic violence providers took part in the survey. Nor does it count people fleeing IPV who were not seeking help from a provider.
So it’s fair to say a minimum of 43,046 people needed a safe place to stay that night.
Emergency shelters and transitional housing fill a need but only for a short time. For many victims shelters are brief respites from the turmoil in their homes. Survivors of violence may be coping with depression, trauma, hopelessness, substance and alcohol abuse disorders and a belief that they are worthless. Abusers often forbid employment and education, preventing victims from establishing financial independence. Healing emotionally and physically takes time. Building reliable income takes time.
Thus, few victims can move from their home or a shelter directly to affordable permanent housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s recent issue of “Out of Reach 2012″ estimates that there are only 30 affordable apartments for every 100 very low income households.
This shortage is unlikely to change quickly despite the hard work of housing policy advocates and developers to show the great need and obtain additional funding. There are also government and non-profit leaders who champion more investment. They have to fight the war on two fronts: those who philosophically opposed social programs in general and those who are unwilling to spend any new money when our government is heavily in debt.
So what is a person to do? Learn how the affordable housing system works and use that information to increase access to tight resources.
In 2009 Congress updated the largest program for housing for the homeless. Called the HEARTH Act the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been slowly issuing the regulations that govern its actual implementation.
One best practice we have learned over the last three years is receiving a larger share of HUD resources: Rapid Re-housing. This program is ideal for individuals and families who are in shelters or on the street.Rapid Re-housing is an apt name. It is designed to reduce homelessness by reducing the amount of time a person or family needs to stay in a shelter. Shorter episodes of homelessness mean less trauma and loss of dignity. They stabilize children in school. They save money.
What kind of help can your clients receive? There are two kinds of assistance. The first is financial. This includes six cost types: (1) Rental Assistance/Arrears; (2) Utility Assistance/Arrears; (3) Security Deposits; (4) Utility Deposits; (5) Moving Cost Assistance; and (6) Hotel/Motel Vouchers:
Eligible participants may receive up to 18 months of rental assistance in order to obtain or remain in housing, including up to six months of arrears. Grantees have the discretion to determine how to structure the rental subsidy. As such, rapid re-housing funds may be used to cover all or just a portion of a program participant’s monthly rent. Generally participants will pay a portion based on their income.
In addition to rent subsidies the funds may be used for up to 18 months of utility payments, including up to six months of utility arrears. If your client has an outstanding balance with utility companies this money can help him/her catch up. (More advice about utility assistance will be covered in another post.)
HPRP funds may also be used to pay for security and/or utility deposits for eligible program participants.
Eligible participants may receive help with reasonable moving costs, such as truck rental fees, moving company fees, and/or short-term storage fees. Storage fees may be paid until the program participant is housed, or for up to three months – whichever time period is shorter.
Participants will live in apartments or rental houses in the community. It takes time to find a unit and it must be inspected to insure it is safe and decent. While the process is taking place and no appropriate shelter beds are available, rapid re-housing assistance may be used to pay for reasonable and appropriate hotel or motel vouchers. These vouchers may be provided for no more than 30 days.
Remember these are HUD program guidelines. Your community may opt to operate its program with some additional parameters. For example, they may not choose to pay for the full 18 months. Check with your city or county office of development for the names of local agencies operating rapid re-housing programs.
Rapid re-housing is not for everybody. If your clients are unlikely to develop sufficient income within your local program guidelines the time to start planning is immediate. A lot can happen in 12 or 18 months – job training, promotions, even college credits or certificates. Your clients can focus on increasing their financial independence in that time. Rapid re-housing eases the transition from home to shelter to a new home free of violence. The faster a family is settled the faster they can begin to heal. That is the best outcome of all for this new program.