HUD's Mark Johnston speaks at 2012 National Conference

written by Emanuel Cavallaro
July 17, 2012

This year will be a year of change for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and, by extension, for advocates and people working on behalf of people experiencing homelessness, said HUD’s acting assistant secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development, Mark Johnston.

Speaking at the opening plenary session of the 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness on Monday, July 16, Assistant Secretary Johnston addressed what is perhaps the most significant piece of news circulating the conference, the release on Saturday, July 15 of the Continuum of Care interim regulations under the HEARTH Act.

Assistant Secretary Johnston reminded the nearly 1,500 practitioners, public officials, and advocates at the conference that the new regulations will alter how communities manage and distribute resources in the future, but will also provide communities with important tools that have the potential to strengthen prevention and rapid re-housing efforts.

He noted that the HEARTH was signed into law in 2009, the same year as the Recovery Act, which created the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). Developing and implementing both policy initiatives have been a challenge for his agency, he said, but doing so has taught HUD officials a great deal about homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

“In retrospect, it was great timing,” he added.

HUD officials have incorporated lessons learned from  the implementation of HPRP into their regulations for the HEARTH act.

But Assistant Secretary Johnston also acknowledged the difficult fiscal environment in which agencies and advocates must operate. The funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, which had been growing year after year, he noted, has flattened out over the last several years.

“Funding…at federal, state and local levels is getting very, very tight, forcing us to become even more efficient and even more strategic,” he told the audience.

Assistant Secretary Johnston said he expects another HEARTH Act regulation for the Rural Housing Stability Program to be released sometime in the coming weeks.

In his remarks, Assistant Secretary Johnston also praised the interagency collaboration between HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the implementation of HUD – VA  Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers, which he said has helped put the nation on track to meeting the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

Between 2009 and 2011, veteran homelessness decreased by 11 percent. Assistant Secretary Johnson noted the decline in veteran homelessness in recent years is “stunning,” particularly considering the economic situation.

“I worked for the VA for many, many years, and I can attest that we’ve had the strongest relationship in the last two to three years than we’ve ever had before,” he said.