D.C. Funded 2,400 New Housing Vouchers For This Year. Less Than 25% Have Been Used

(Street Sense MediaThe DC Line) Annemarie Cuccia, August 18, 2022

Annemarie Cuccia

Doug had a housing voucher, but he was still sleeping outside. Three days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, he boarded a train to D.C. on the promise of a job. When he arrived, he learned his start date was delayed. The place he had expected to work was near the Capitol Building, which was fenced off by National Guard soldiers. For some time, he relied on his savings to pay for food and housing.

“Then, the job disappeared. COVID was still raging. And I kind of got stuck without any money, living on the streets,” he said.

Doug, who asked to be identified only by his first name because he fears retribution for speaking out about the District government’s housing process, had been living outdoors for a year and a half when Street Sense spoke to him in June. Though he recently received a Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) voucher, he may still have months to wait before moving into an apartment.

Last summer, D.C. funded approximately 2,400 new individual PSH vouchers for fiscal year 2022, which started last October and runs through Sept. 30. The vouchers, which are split between regular PSH and emergency housing vouchers, provide long-term rent support and case management to people who have experienced homelessness for over a year and have a disabling condition. Many housing advocates view PSH vouchers as the best way to end chronic homelessness.

But three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year, only about 520 people have moved into housing through these vouchers so far, according to the Department of Human Services (DHS). Many more are waiting — over 1,000 are somewhere in the formal application process, and another 900 or so are waiting for the assistance they need to begin applying. DHS doesn’t expect to be able to house people with all 2,400 vouchers this year, according to Kevin Valentine, the agency’s communications director. This isn’t a new problem: D.C. used only 56% of newly available PSH vouchers between October 2019 and February 2021. But advocates say the current utilization rate is especially dismal and are urging reforms.

There were 2,400 more vouchers but few new staff members or systemic improvements in place to administer them. Once a person experiencing homelessness is deemed eligible for a voucher, they are assigned to a designated case manager at a nonprofit PSH service provider. Each case manager can take on only so many clients at once, limiting the number of vouchers the system can process. The case manager then helps the voucher holder submit an official application to the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA), which then reviews the application. If the application is approved, the voucher holder — with the help of their case manager — has to find a unit to lease, have the unit inspected by DCHA, and sign a lease agreement. From the case manager assignment to lease up, the process takes 158 days on average, according to DHS.

“The pace of lease ups in FY22 is faster and reflects significant improvement compared to the pace of lease ups in FY21,” Valentine wrote in an email to Street Sense Media and The DC Line. “We are continuously focused on supporting each resident in the PSH program to attain quality housing as quickly as possible.”

As the end of the fiscal year approaches, PSH providers and housing advocates are demanding DCHA and DHS — which jointly administer the vouchers — speed up the process. They’re arguing that hiring incentives, streamlined application requirements, and a general decrease in bureaucracy would get people into housing faster.

Source: Street Sense Media and The DC Line.