The mayor cut funding for housing counseling and increased funding for needs assessments within shelters
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration cut, and then partially reinstated, fiscal year 2019 funding for housing counseling services. Across-the-board funding cuts related to a federal block grant program, totalling $3.4 million dollars overseen by the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, would reduce support for at least 10 nonprofit organizations, according to an Oct. 2 report by Washington City Paper.
Housing counseling is aimed at helping D.C. residents navigate D.C. housing programs. “This funding allows community-based organizations to provide important services such as hosting training sessions for Inclusionary Zoning renter and homeownership programs, and assistance with applying for DHCD-funded home purchase programs like the Home Purchase Assistance Program,” according to a letter written by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and signed by At-Large Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Elissa Silverman and Robert White and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson.
After a month of complaints from advocates for the homeless community, including the letter from councilmembers, Mayor Bowser ordered just under one third of the funding to be restored, according to a Nov. 2 Washington City Paper report.
Also in the current fiscal year, Catholic Charities received additional federal funds to increase the number of housing counselors in their shelters to help expedite the “coordinated entry” process for those living in shelter.
This system, implemented by the Obama administration in 2014, uses a “no wrong door” policy to allow applicants to apply for housing through any service provider trained to complete assessments for the program, alleviating the need to travel from place to place. Applications from across the city are pooled and triaged to identify the applicants who are most vulnerable, based on a “vulnerability index” score. When placements become available, those deemed most vulnerable receive housing assistance first.
According to Adam Rocap, co-chair of the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness work group focused on coordinated entry, this funding increase mainly ensures shelter residents have equal access to this system.
“For a long time, there haven’t been enough services in shelters to do case management for everyone that’s there,” Rocap told Street Sense Media. “If there aren’t enough services in shelter, it’s harder for someone who’s just in shelter to access coordinated entry. But bringing more case managers into shelters makes coordinated entry more accessible to that group.”
The addition of new housing counselors, though, raises a more pressing issue: a lack of housing for the homeless. “At the end of the day, we can only match people to housing for as many housing units as we have,” Rocap said. “We have far more people who need housing than there are housing resources.”
The means of how Catholic Charities obtained such funding could not be confirmed. The Department of Human Services, the Department of Housing and Community Development and Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington declined to comment.
Research funded by the real estate company Zillow and released on Dec. 14 said the average District resident pays 38 percent of their income toward rent and that if the cost of rent increased enough to drive that percentage up to 40 percent, approximately 40 more people would fall into homelessness.
“Washington, D.C., is in the cluster where worsening affordability is most likely to affect homeless numbers,” the report said.