In many ways, housing advocacy should be easy. Everyone needs housing to thrive, therefore it should be as easily attainable as possible. However in reality, many topics get mixed in and make the conversation much more complicated. Deeply ingrained systemic racism, generational wealth, market volatility impacting rental and purchase prices, and low wages create an environment where many will struggle to achieve the safe and stable housing they need to live. For our neighbors with complex needs, safe and affordable housing can often be unattainable. That is where a network of not-for-profit agencies who are providing housing assistance comes in. The funding streams which dictate programming for these agencies are often misunderstood, so we wanted to provide a quick primer on the different types of housing assistance available for our neighbors who need it.
Before households are eligible for housing assistance they must meet pretty stringent criteria. They would have experienced a long period of time of housing insecurity, meaning they’ve been living somewhere that isn’t safe or secure (such as couch surfing at extended families homes, sleeping in their car, or sleeping outside). They’ll often have mental health and healthcare needs, even when individuals are also able to maintain a full-time job. These households have expended all of their resources.
Households with the lowest barriers often find success with Rapid Rehousing. These are usually families with at least one adult working full-time, who need assistance locating housing which is affordable to them, especially finding landlords who will offer leases even if they’ve experienced periods of being unhoused or past evictions. These families are provided a case manager, job placement, and other services. Usually this assistance lasts three months or less.
Temporary Housing Assistance is available to households with slightly higher housing barriers. This provides up to two years of assistance to those with disabilities or chronic homelessness who are likely to be able to sustain their housing only with services. This includes intense wrap-around services like drug treatment, mental health and healthcare assistance. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires a focus on education and job placement services, and tracks how successfully nonprofit agencies are able to help families in their programs increase their income. Agencies without increasing incomes often struggle to secure funding the following year.
Finally, Permanent Supportive Housing is for those with the highest housing barriers, especially individuals with significant disabilities, trauma, or other obstacles. This level of care is usually provided only to the households who are unlikely to be able to work traditional jobs at a level which will sustain housing. In Missouri, an individual has to work 52 hours per week at minimum wage to afford a modest one bedroom apartment without assistance. This level of assistance is without an end date, because these individuals need significant help. Just like agencies who provide temporary housing, agencies work to help folks gain employment and increase their income, even if it is ultimately not enough to cover their full housing costs. There is probably little surprise then that permanent supportive housing is overwhelmingly successful, as much as 86% of the clients in this type of housing are able to stay housed.
Services are an important part of all homeless assistance programs. Participating households have access to transportation, childcare, health and mental health care, job placement, and education. Households often wait for years to access the housing assistance programs above, often compounding their needs. Shelters and outreach workers are often able to help fill in the gaps, keeping track of people until their name comes up on the registry of households in need of assistance (in Missouri and other states, we call this the ‘by-name’ list). While there is significant work to be done to address the systemic causes of homelessness through policy change, in the meantime, we have many successful not-for-profit agencies working to help folks who find themselves unhoused.