80% of CLPHA’s members have received
HUD-Veterans’ Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers over the past two
years. Collectively, these awards total approximately 7,300 vouchers, or
35% of the HUD-VASH vouchers awarded. Most CLPHA
members administering VASH have a small allocation relative to their total
Housing Choice Voucher program—about one-third have only 35 VASH vouchers, with
another 40% having 70 or 105 vouchers. A few—Houston,
Los Angeles City, New York City—received substantially larger
recently asked its members to complete a survey on their services for special
populations (veterans, the homeless, ex-offenders). As of March 24, 2010,
we had received responses from 32 PHAs, 28 of which administer VASH
vouchers. This report is based on those responses.
Response to the Program
PHAs have faced significant challenges in getting the HUD-VASH program off of
the ground, the vast majority of survey respondents have found ways to build a
successful relationship with their VAMC counterparts and make the program
work. Most of those still struggling are agencies that did not receive an
allocation in 2008, and so are still working out their relationship with the
VAMC. There are limited exceptions related to particular VAMCs and/or their
particular program staff.
none of the PHAs would claim that the program is now perfect, the answer to the
question of interest in additional VASH voucher allocations was a resounding
“yes!” Agencies cited the tremendous need for this program in their
communities and a desire to make good use of the infrastructure capacity and
relationships they have been putting in place. In Denver
and Jersey City,
developers have been expressing interest in partnering with the PHA to create
supportive housing for veterans using project-based VASH vouchers.
administration’s budget justifications for 2011 does not request funds for the VASH
program, stating an intent to “focus its efforts on the administration of
previously appropriated amounts.” It notes that though additional allocations
were made in 2009 and 2010, the FY2008 allocation of VASH vouchers was not yet
fully leased as of November 2009. Survey responses explained the reasons
for the slow lease-up process, and offered insights into how PHAs are working
to improve the program and help more people more quickly.
with the VA—Referral Rates and Communication Concerns
order to issue VASH vouchers, PHAs must receive referrals from their partner
VAMC. Virtually every respondent to our survey noted the lengthy VA
hiring process as one of the primary challenges of administering the
program. The VA can take as long as six months from the time of award to
staff the VASH case manager position(s), after which referrals still start off
slowly as new staff orient themselves to the program. Several agencies first
awarded vouchers in July 2009 (Cambridge, New Bedford) were not able
to say anything about VASH implementation as their VAMC is just finishing their
Denver suggests that the slow hiring
process gave them time to develop protocols and communication mechanisms.
Where communication channels exist to make this possible, that may be the case.
Pre-award communication between the Houston Housing Authority and VAMC allowed
that program to succeed from the very beginning.
most agencies have been frustrated with the slowness with which they began to receive
referrals. In Minneapolis,
the PHA sent staff to the VA to conduct intake appointments and briefings to
offset the slow referral process. In DC, the PHA has trained VAMC staff
and their partners on what documentation clients need to receive a voucher.
The PHA (DC?) can now issue a voucher in response to most referrals instead of
having to turn applicants away because of inadequate paperwork.
vary with regard to whether the VA staffing challenge improves with regard to a
second allocation of vouchers. Boston
reports that the VA was able to get case managers in place much more quickly
when they received their second award; KingCounty,
on the other hand, found that it still took six months to get through the
VA staff is in place, communications concerns often remain. Neither the
VA nor the PHA has expertise in each others’ protocols and most have found that
the best way to address that challenge is to teach each other how to speak each
other’s languages. Almost every agency that reported a positive and
productive relationship with their VAMC spoke of regular meetings—usually
weekly or biweekly, though sometimes less frequent—with all relevant staff
people as key to making the program work. They stressed the importance of open,
ongoing, and structured communication.
Several also found it useful to
establish clear points of contact at the PHA and at the VA. For example, the
Housing Authority of the County
of Los Angeles (HACoLA)
provided a thorough training on its processes and forms and reviewed the
Homeless Definition with the VAMC to ensure they referred clients that met that
definition. HACoLA also asked the VAMC to designate a limited number of
contacts to communicate with HACoLA, decreasing the number of phone calls
and inquiries from multiple VA case managers. This helps HACoLA and the
VA to better streamline their communication process.
from not knowing PHA protocols, many VA case managers do not have experience
assisting clients with housing searches. Several PHAs (e.g., DC, Kansas City, HACoLA) have
found that sharing their familiarity with the housing available to
voucher-holders has helped increase their rate of leasing. DC, for
example, maintains a list of pre-inspected, rent-reasonable units available to
VASH voucher holders. In both DC and Oakland, the VA contracts with local agencies
that have more expertise in housing search assistance.
Milwaukee raised serious concerns about
inadequacy of administrative fees to enable PHAs to put in the effort needed to
maintain all of this extra collaborative communication. HACoLA also notes
the financial difficulty of bearing the upfront cost of implementing the
program and performing the work essential to leasing eligible clients before
the PHA actually receives payment.
Barriers to Securing Housing
greatest barriers that participants face in securing housing with their VASH
vouchers are those faced by many voucher holders in general: outstanding
utility bills, security deposits, and application fees. Akron has utilized the connections built by
participating in their local Continuum of Care to find help for their
participants with resolving past-due utility balances. San Diego is using Homelessness Prevention
and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP) funds to address the security deposit
challenge. With permission and support from their partner jurisdictions
(the City and County), the Housing Authority of Portland used some Payment In
Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) funds they had in reserve to create a deposit
assistance fund to pay deposits on initial leases. Once these funds were
made available, the average number of days it took for veterans to lease up
decreased by 25%, and an additional 38% leased in under 60 days.
challenge of securing housing with a criminal—particularly felony—record, while
common to all voucher holders, is especially prominent in the VASH program
because of its minimal screening. In areas such as Minneapolis,
Kansas City, San Antonio,
and KingCounty, criminal backgrounds are the
most serious barrier to participants’ securing housing. In some cases,
working through this challenge is seen as under the purview of the VA case
managers. In Cincinnati,
both VA and PHA staff work to talk to landlords and explain that VASH voucher
holders received ongoing case management services. In Minneapolis, a larger marketing campaign
explaining the program has mitigated the difficulties and helped landlords
become more willing to participate. In San
Antonio, the PHA helps the VA connect with apartment
locator agencies that are able to find units for which these participants are
eligible. KingCounty is working with
property management companies contracted at some of their KCHA-owned properties
to develop alternative screening criteria to apply to VASH and other special
to Project-Base VASH Vouchers
half of the survey respondents would like to project-base some VASH vouchers to
provide additional housing opportunities and more effectively deliver
services. Several have encountered serious resistance from their VA
counterparts to this idea. Camden
(VA?) has concerns about their ability to maintain a sufficient waiting, given
the rate of referrals from the VA. KingCounty and Akron have concerns about how the exit
voucher requirement is applied to VASH. Albany is at its project-based cap and so has
no option to project-base VASH vouchers, despite the fact that they may have
different reasons for doing so than for project-basing their general purpose
vouchers. Some (Kansas City,
DC) face similar barriers they
run into with project-basing in general: NIMBY and availability of suitable
properties where project-basing is financially feasible.
some agencies are beginning to find ways to make project-basing work. The
Akron Housing Authority took the lead in establishing a team to
participate in the Corporation for Supportive Housing's Supportive Housing Institute (October 2009/March
2010). The hope is to project-base six HUD-VASH vouchers from a tenant-based HUD-VASH pool instead of using a separate application process.
These units will all have owner-paid utilities, and management will be flexible
in payment of the security deposit. The
agency's role was to serve as a catalyst to develop the team, and will
administer vouchers. Partners from the community who participated in the
Institute will develop, manage and provide services.Chicago
has a project-based HAP contract in process, with execution anticipated by
April 30, 2010.
Issues for Consideration
agencies raised concerns for which they cannot independently implement
Chicago, for example, has
encountered difficulty with determining how to deal with remaining household
members when the family member who qualified for VASH is no longer a household
member, or is temporarily absent. They are discussing this issue with the
VA and are considering various solutions.
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) finds itself in a
bind that could be a problem for any agency close to its authorized cap.
The agency is over-leased in its general HCV program, but is obligated to issue
a VASH voucher upon receiving a referral. Because they cannot hold VASH
vouchers back, they have no way to manage their program back under their
cap. NYCHA does not want to hold VASH vouchers back. They believe that
since HUD-VASH is a separate program with separate funding, its voucher
utilization should also be separate from the rest of the HCV program.
Several agencies expressed concerns about portability in
this program. Cincinnati
mentioned that some of the PHAs receiving VASH ports have no knowledge of the
VASH program requirements. Further, it is hard to get some of them to
bill the original agency, a program requirement. Milwaukee noted that participants who want to
port their VASH assistance outside of the VAMC service area have experienced
significantly longer search times, as their case management services do not
extend outside of the VA service area.
survey is still open to PHAs who have not yet responded. Please
feel free to contact Leah Staub to discuss your experience with
the VASH program and suggestions for structural improvements.