The federal government released $34.5 million to 64 programs in King County to support ongoing efforts to combat the homelessness crisis.
The influx of cash from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) fully funded the 2017 request sent by All Home King County, the umbrella organization that coordinates efforts throughout the region, said Mark Putnam, director of All Home.
The award represents the majority of $58 million sent to Washington state as a whole, and is part of a record-breaking $1.95 billion granted throughout the United States, according to a hud press release sent Tuesday. The King County continuum of care — HUD-speak for regional coalitions of organizations and entities that work together on homelessness issues — received more than half of the money sent to Washington, because the county holds half of the homeless population.
Federal resources are critical to the local efforts to make homelessness “rare, brief and one-time,” the mantra of All Home and other social-services agencies throughout the country. However, the money represents a marked shift in government thinking and priorities around accepted best practices by moving money away from transitional housing programs toward rapid rehousing, a relatively new strategy to get people indoors.
Transitional housing programs are usually set up to allow people two years in a project-based building with a number of services to help them get back on their feet. Conversely, rapid rehousing leverages the private market, supporting an individual or family’s rent for three to nine months in the private market, without additional services.
In August, All Home sent letters to several transitional housing projects informing them that they would not be included in the application for federal money. The reason was strategy: The government has consistently signaled over past cycles that it wanted to shift toward rapid rehousing projects. Transitional housing had fallen out of favor.
The move has been controversial in Seattle. The housing market here is white-hot, with median rents for a one-bedroom apartment hitting $1,800 a month. That can be a real burden on low-income folks who get into housing and can’t afford it 10 months later when their subsidy runs out, sending them back into homelessness.
Even with the cuts-by-omission, those transitional housing projects will continue through 2017. Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold moved to fill in the gaps during budget negotiations with a $220,000 bump from city coffers for eight programs.
Seattle’s roadmap to end homelessness, a strategy born out of consultants with heavy ties to the federal government, doesn’t bode well for sustained funding.
Of course, transitional housing programs are hardly the only ones with questions about what will happen a year on. There is much uncertainty about what the incoming administration and likely HUD secretary Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has disdain for public housing, will mean for federal grants for local programs and the production of affordable housing in the future.