State Moves to End Family Homelessness By 2020

VT Digger discusses the progress being made on the plan to end family and child homelessness in Vermont by 2020. The plan, which was announced earlier in the year by Governor Shumlin, is also part of a national goal established by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness:

Vermont is rolling out an initiative to eliminate child and family homelessness by 2020.

The Vermont State Housing Authority is in the final stages of approving a new policy that would give families with children priority for vouchers for rental properties.

Under new policy, which was approved by the VSHA board last week, families that are working with a caseworker and receiving other services will qualify more quickly for subsidies that offset the cost of rent.

Richard Williams, executive director of VSHA, said the new housing rules will help families address other economic issues.

“If you have a roof over your head you can start to deal with other challenges,” Williams said.

The policy needs to be approved by the federal government before it can go into effect, which Williams expects will take a few months.

The change has been in the works since the beginning of the year, and the Housing Authority has taken public input on it. It is one step in the Shumlin administration’s three-pronged plan to eliminate family homelessness in the state by 2020.

“Homelessness is a challenge for everyone,” Williams said of the administration’s initiative, “but homelessness for families with kids should be the state’s priority.”

Angus Chaney, director of housing with the Agency of Human Services, told the Vermont Child Poverty Council on Tuesday that the state is moving forward with implementing the administration’s proposals.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Secretary of Human Services Hal Cohen unveiled the effort in March.

One of the biggest obstacles, Chaney said, is the state’s vacancy rate for rental housing units, which is less than 1 percent in some areas.

“All the subsidies and services in the world don’t reduce the number of homeless families if there’s no apartments to move into,” Chaney said.

The administration’s initiative includes a two-part plan to encourage private development of rental housing and to bring existing run-down properties up to code so they are able to be rented.

Chaney told the panel that the state still has a way to go on the “construction” portion of the initiative.

“Think of rental subsidies, supportive services and access to housing as the three legs of the stool when it comes to ending homelessness,” Chaney said Wednesday. “Unless they all line up in the proper quantities, things are precarious at best for people experiencing homelessness.”

According to a report by the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness and the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, on the night of Jan. 27, there were 1,523 homeless Vermonters — a 2.3 percent reduction from last year.

Children were members of 199 of the households counted as homeless — 18.6 percent of the total.

Williams said the need for affordable housing in Vermont was underscored this spring when VSHA opened the waitlist for rental housing vouchers. In a month and a half, 1,600 people applied for vouchers, he said.

VSHA typically gives out between 25 and 30 vouchers per month.

Erhard Mahnke of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition said Vermont can end family homelessness in the next five years, but he underscored the need for additional support on the state and national level.

Congressional support for housing programs will be critical to the success of the initiative, as is support in Montpelier, he said.

“If the state is willing to provide some additional resources, it is something that is achievable,” Mahnke said.

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