Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act - Office of Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau
Thank you for your interest in the Homeless Service Reform Amendment Act (HSRA). I understand this is an issue you care about, and I share your concern. I want to be as thoughtful and thorough as possible, so I hope you’ll bear with me and read to the end of what I know is a lengthy description of where we are.
The HSRA amends the law that governs our emergency homeless services, and has been in place for more than 10 years. As Chair of the Human Services Committee, it was my responsibility to fully examine the Mayor’s proposal, to listen to residents, advocates and service providers, and make changes that I believe will improve the services we provide our District residents experiencing homelessness.
This was an incredibly difficult task, because the outcome impacts the safety and security of District residents. I take that responsibility incredibly seriously. The fact is, we have an affordable housing crisis, which has led to an incredible strain on our homeless services. With hundreds of families living in hotels and in shelters and the District spending $80,000 per night during hypothermia season to support them, we had to act and provide better options for our residents.
I heard the criticism of the original bill loud and clear. That’s why, the bill the Council passed is the result of a months-long process modifying the Mayor’s proposal with extensive feedback from stakeholders, advocates, and residents. This bill will ultimately protect the District’s right to shelter and help the most vulnerable people in our community while working to resolve a crisis in our homelessness services system.
I included changes to the Mayor’s bill to better protect clients, particularly as related to program exits, residency requirements, and eligibility redetermination such as:
- Reducing the burden of proof required of homeless residents to prove residency and receive services.
- Requiring the Department of Human Services to acknowledge those who already receive public benefits, such as SNAP or TANF, from the District are residents.
- Acknowledging that those who have been forced to “couch surf” outside the District to stay off the streets are actually District residents.
- Making it clearer that people on the verge of eviction should be considered at risk of homelessness.
- Making it easier for domestic violence victims and refugees to have access to shelter.
- Ensuring that individuals and families who have become homeless the same day they seek services are eligible for shelter.
- Strengthening due process rights for people exiting certain housing programs, allowing them to have an administrative hearing before a judge before their services are terminated.
- Solidifying protections for clients whose eligibility is being redetermined by ensuring uninterrupted service and providing guardrails to avoid arbitrary and untimely questioning.
- Boosting client rights to require housing inspections be conducted prior to placement.
You may be aware of a “catchall” amendment that was offered at the legislative session to address residency requirements. This amendment would have undone all the careful work the committee did to come up with clear and thoughtful ways to demonstrate residency in order to be eligible to receive District homeless services. The balance we struck in the final version of this bill allowed us to compassionately address the many scenarios District residents may be facing, while also ensuring that our resources go ONLY to District residents. It would not have been responsible of me, or the Council, to support such an amendment.
Many emails in opposition to HSRA were circulating in advance of this week’s vote. It’s important to note that in large part, the concerns in those emails were addressed in committee, several weeks ago.
How I’m working to prevent homelessness
This bill will address many of the problems in our homeless services system, but it was never meant to address them all. We still have a long way to go as a community to tackle our affordable housing crisis, which is a leading cause of homelessness, and I will continue to be an advocate for expanding programs that help make the District affordable for all. I have a record of supporting affordable housing solutions, including increases to the Housing Production Trust Fund as well as projects that I have fought for in Ward 1, where we have more than 500 new and preserved units of affordable housing being built just since I took office three years ago. One of the biggest, the redevelopment of Park Morton, will include new units of affordable housing at two tiers of affordability—replacing 174 units of existing housing and creating 155 new ones.
Earlier this year, I led the charge on reforming our public assistance program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Under my leadership, the Council approved a budget that would ensure that no child ever goes without benefits while their parent is enrolled in TANF. Ensuring this benefit is in place for families is yet another way we can get prevent homelessness in the first place.
My committee budget also invested in the Homelessness Prevention Program, which is diverting families from shelter by providing them with additional resources that help them remain in their homes, as well as restored funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
As committee chair I also worked to protect the already existing funds dedicated to the Rapid Rehousing program (RRH) while adding to other important buckets, including the allocation of funds for hundreds of additional units of Permanent Supportive Housing and Targeted Affordable Housing. We need to utilize a variety of housing solutions to help stabilize our families.
I empathize with the concerns revolving around the Rapid Re-Housing program. RRH is one tool that we have to help meet the need to move people out of shelter and through our housing continuum; we have others that are useful as well. It is important to me that we make sure each tool we have is as robust as possible, and properly funded.
During the legislative session this week, the Council considered an amendment that would have provided for an additional six months for a client to remain in RRH. I understand the intent behind this legislation, as well as the desire to support it. What we know about the program as it stands today is that it is working for more than 80 percent of families who have participated in it. We also know that for families who need deeper interventions such as Targeted Affordable Housing, an extra six months is not going to help. That’s why I’ve continued making major investments in these deeper interventions, so there are enough slots in these programs for families who will not be successful in RRH.
Let me be clear, nobody wants to see our families return to homelessness after receiving services through our programs. We are all working to prevent that from happening by providing families with the supports they need to be stably housed.
I understand that there may be parts of the legislation that you do not support, and I respect that. My work here is not done. On December 14 I will hold a roundtable on the Rapid Rehousing program, and in February we will resume the performance oversight hearings. However, I do not require a roundtable or a hearing to perform oversight – I do so year-round through regular conversations with the Department of Human Services, the Interagency Council on Homelessness, and those they serve.
As always, I’m here if you have additional concerns. Thank you for your advocacy.
Brianne K. Nadeau