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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How Do Communities Access Federal Funding for Homelessness?

This post is intended to provide general information about how communities can access federal funding for homelessness. This money is distributed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and more specifically through HUD's Continuum of Care (CoC) program. First, I'll provide a brief description of the process in which the funds are allocated and managed. Second, I'll summarize the legislation and implementing regulations of the CoC Program. Third, I'll point out what communities need to do to position themselves to secure CoC funding.

Every year HUD releases its CoC NOFA for homeless housing and services. In order to receive this funding, HUD requires that communities establish CoCs, which are local coordinating bodies that consist of government and nonprofit agencies focused on ending homelessness in their community. The CoC has a governing body, usually called a "Council" that directs the business of the CoC. Different roles are assigned to participating CoC entities. The two most important roles are the Collaborative Applicant that is responsible for submitting an application to HUD on behalf of the CoC, and the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Lead that is responsible for managing a homeless information database. One of the CoC's primary roles is the review and ranking of individual project applications within its jurisdictions, which are then presented by the Collaborative Applicant in the CoC's Consolidated Application. This structure, and supporting policies and procedures, must be in place before communities secure CoC funds.

The HUD CoC program is governed by the HEARTH Act, which became law in 2009. This law amended the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act by consolidating three separate homeless assistance programs into a single grant program. The HEARTH Act also codifies the CoC planning and administration process as described above. The stated goals of the HEARTH Act are to promote community-wide commitment to ending homelessness, provide funding to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families, promote access to other mainstream assistance programs for homeless persons, and optimize self-sufficiency among homeless persons. The "Interim Rule" (24 CFR 578) consists of the HEARTH Act implementing regulations.

HUD has prioritized CoC funding to align with the goals of the federal plan to prevent and end homelessness- "Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness". The most currently relevant goal of this plan is to end Chronic Homelessness in 2017. Chronically Homeless persons are defined by HUD as persons who have a disability that have been continuously homeless for at least 12 months or that have been homeless on at least four separate occasions in the last three years. See the complete definition here. The plan identifies the following strategies for meeting this goal:

  • Reallocate existing CoC funding to projects that house Chronically Homeless individuals.
  • Prioritize existing permanent supportive housing beds for Chronically Homeless individuals with the greatest needs.
  • Engage Chronically Homeless individuals through street outreach and standardize assessment and placement in a way that makes it easier to access housing.
  • Implement community-wide "Housing First" programs that lower barriers to accessing housing.
  • Request additional funding from Congress to build more permanent supportive housing units.
This year's CoC NOFA competition rewards communities that are taking concrete steps to implement the first four strategies listed above. CoCs must demonstrate progress through outcomes that are recorded in HMIS. Projects requesting annual renewals for rental assistance and/or supportive services must demonstrate that they are prioritizing available beds for Chronically Homeless individuals. In addition, new projects requesting funds must serve the Chronically Homeless with permanent supportive housing or rapid-rehousing using a Housing First model.

For more general information, check out HUD's Introductory Guide to the CoC program. As you can see, HUD has a very specific, prescriptive way that they want to fund projects that address homelessness. You will want to understand what will be required and whether your community has the capacity to deliver it before you pursue this funding.