Permanent Housing Pathways
The New Framework for Housing Stability identifies three permanent housing interventions, and is based on the principle of providing the least intervention necessary to promote housing stability for the client or client family. This strategy, sometimes referred to as “right-sizing” assistance or “just enough” assistance, is important because Austin has more demand for housing assistance than available resources. Simply put, the homeless services system is not resourced to provide permanent subsidies to every household in the system, and providing more assistance than a household truly needs to resolve the housing crisis means others in the system do not get assisted at all. As such, the assessment tool aims to identify which permanent housing intervention best meets each client’s need.
Lowest intervention: Minimal Housing Assistance
This intervention is considered to be a very light touch. The individuals assigned to this pathway are those that could not be diverted but are likely to resolve their homelessness on their own or with very minimal assistance. The Steering Committee envisions that an individual case manager may not be need, though the Assessment Specialist may provide referrals to mainstream service providers, and access to group case management or informational workshops may be provided (e.g., budgeting/financial literacy, tenant rights and responsibilities). In addition, one-time financial assistance (e.g., assistance with arrears, security deposit and move-in assistance) may be needed.
Medium intervention: Rapid Re-Housing
The next level of intervention is short- to medium-term assistance (i.e., between 3 and 24 months). While financial assistance (e.g., arrears, security deposits, rental assistance, utility assistance) is part of this support, case management and supportive services are equally important. The assistance is not one-size-fits-all, but rather titrated based on each client’s unique needs and circumstances.
A review of the BSS+ program data reveals that clients receive between $2,000 and $3,000 of assistance and have recidivism rates of less than 5 percent. While these are very strong outcomes, the BSS+ program has targeted a relatively narrow group of individuals. The Steering Committee believes that the community could (and should) pursue a wider use of rapid re-housing. In order to do achieve this, however, the Steering Committee recommends reviewing the program model to ensure that among other program components, arbitrary caps on assistance do not prevent targeting of households with more barriers (e.g., those that need more than a few months of assistance but do not need permanent supportive housing). Likewise, the Steering Committee recommends identifying additional funding for RRH efforts (e.g., ESG, CoC, HOME, HOPWA, TANF, LIHEAP), and to the extent possible, streamlining that funding into a single program design to ease the administrative burden. Lastly, greater training on the model is needed to ensure case managers understand techniques related to progressive engagement and the importance of individualized case planning and supportive services to help households stabilize.
The UT School of Social Work is assisting ECHO to examine available resources in the community that can be applied towards rapid re-housing strategies. However, assistance will be required from program administrators to consider nuances of different funding streams and to develop a program approach that is both effective and easy to administer
Highest intervention: Permanent Supportive Housing
The most intensive (and most expensive) intervention is permanent supportive housing (PSH). PSH should be reserved for those individuals and families who are unable to remain stably housed “but for” a permanent subsidy and ongoing supportive services.
Austin’s local PSH strategy is based on identifying and prioritizing chronically homeless men and women who are frequent users of public systems and/or vulnerable for death or harm. Both measures are intended to help this community prioritize prospective tenants for PSH with a focus on high-need individuals. This initial strategy emphasizes the frequent users in order to demonstrate reductions in costly uses of public systems and the related reduction in costs once the homeless client is both housed and has access to services and case management.
Strategic Use of Permanent Housing Subsidies
In addition to these three interventions, the Steering Committee recognizes that permanent subsidies (such as Section 8 vouchers) are an important resource in efforts to end homelessness. Although the Steering Committee recognizes that all low-income households could benefit from a permanent housing subsidy, not all households require a permanent housing subsidy to remain housed. Because these resources are limited, and because current assessment tools are unable to help us differentiate with any certainty households that can stabilize with a temporary subsidy from those that require an ongoing subsidy, the Steering Committee recommends two strategic uses of such resources: 1) for individuals and families initially assigned to the rapid re-housing pathway but unable to stabilize within the time limits of the program; and/or 2) for individuals and families in PSH programs that no longer need intensive, ongoing services and have demonstrated the ability and desire to “move on” (thereby freeing the PSH unit for someone with high service needs).
Same Tools, Different Packages
It is important to note that there is not always a bright line between interventions, especially for clients at the margins. Further, there is overlap among the “tools” used within each intervention (for example, security deposit assistance is a tool that could be provided under each intervention), and the same funding source – for example, HUD’s CoC program – could be used to fund programs within each intervention. Different households will need different packages of financial assistance and services, and the assessment is intended to help us determine the approximate “size” of that package so we can refer them to the appropriate case manager in an appropriate agency, who is then responsible for working with the client on the details of their permanent housing placement.