New Rules for Homeless Assistance Programs

written by naehblog
September 22, 2009

We’re heard though the grapevine that some people are a little confused – and a little worried – by the new Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, a.k.a. the HEARTH Act. There seem to be some question about what, exactly, this legislation will do and how it will affect local direct service providers.

Below, our senior policy analyst Norm Suchar has some answers. Take it away, Norm!

One of the major homelessness policy debates over the past 2 decades has been about updating the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) homeless assistance programs. After years of debates and several false starts, Congress passed a bill called the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, a.k.a. the HEARTH Act. It was signed by President Obama on May 20, 2009.

The HEARTH Act makes mostly evolutionary changes to homeless assistance, although some of the changes are more substantial. The changes go into effect in about two years. Here are some of the highlights.

1. The HEARTH Act focuses much more on preventing homelessness. Currently federal homeless assistance programs don’t fund many prevention programs. Because of the HEARTH Act, there will be a lot more homelessness prevention, particularly for helping people when they get behind on the rent or when they have a dispute with a landlord.

2. There is a greater focus on helping families with children move into their own housing. Families are typically homeless for several weeks or several months, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With some help paying for first and last month’s rent, deposits, and moving costs, most families could exit homelessness much quicker. The HEARTH Act puts more resources into this kind of assistance.

3. There will continue to be a focus on Permanent Supportive Housing for people with disabilities. Over the past several years, HUD has encouraged communities to spend more on Permanent Supportive Housing, which consists of a basic apartment with supportive services, like case management, mental health care, and substance abuse services. This effort has been very successful, significantly reducing the number of people with disabilities who experience long-term or chronic homelessness. The HEARTH Act continues this focus and also changes some of the rules to make it easier to develop Permanent Supportive Housing.