Federal Policy Brief | February 3, 2015
On a given night in 2014, over 578,424 people are homeless in the United States. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal government’s primary response to homelessness, funding proven solutions to the problem. The bipartisan HEARTH Act of 2009 reauthorized the program to increase its emphasis on using outcomes and research to drive programmatic decisions.
The Homeless Assistance Grants appropriations account funds two programs: the competitive Continuum of Care (CoC) program, and the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) block grant program. The CoC program funds proven interventions like cost-effective permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people. The ESG block grant funds emergency shelter and adds a new focus on the cost-efficient interventions of homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.
Despite the persistently lagging economy and increased housing costs, homelessness actually declined slightly between 2013 and 2014, largely because of a concerted focus on outcome-oriented programs and solutions. Unfortunately, the economic and demographic indicators of homelessness remain high, and there have been deep cuts to key affordable housing programs at the federal, state, and local levels.
Despite the persistently lagging economy and increased housing costs, homelessness actually declined slightly between 2012 and 2013, largely because of a concerted focus on outcome-oriented programs and solutions. Unfortunately, communities were recently forced to cut up to 5 percent of their CoC programs and much, much more of their ESG programs due to sequestration cuts. The economic and demographic indicators of homelessness remain high, and there have been deep cuts to key affordable housing programs at the federal, state, and local levels.
As a result, further federal investment is needed to make real progress on homelessness. The HEARTH Act works to address homelessness among families, individuals with disabilities, and others by expanding the emphasis on proven, cost-effective solutions, including:
• Rapid re-housing (short-term rental assistance, landlord mediation and other housing search services, and connections to employment and other key services) for homeless families and individuals;
• Permanent supportive housing (long-term housing and supportive services) targeted to people with disabilities who experience chronic homelessness; and
• Homelessness prevention.
The enacted FY 2015 funding bill passed in December included $2.135 billion for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program, a $30 million increase over FY 2014 funding. This should be enough to cover all CoC renewals from FY 2014 grants and will allow communities to continue to expand their rapid re-housing and prevention efforts. In part due to expiring multi-year grants, it unfortunately will not, however, allow us to expand permanent supportive housing capacity. The President released his FY 2016 Budget Proposal on Monday, February 2, 2015. This request included $2.480 billion for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program, $345 million more than the current enacted level.
With deep cuts to many housing and safety-net programs and the returning threat of sequestration in FY 2016 barring any deal to raise the budget caps, without help from Congress there is a high risk that homelessness will increase. Congress should invest in proven solutions to homelessness through the HEARTH Act by providing $2.480 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants in FY 2016, the amount requested by the President in his FY 2016 Budget Proposal. This funding level would cover the cost of the renewal demand and fund an additional 25,500 units toward the goal of ending chronic homelessness by the end of 2017, while helping communities to expand their investment in efforts to rapidly and permanently house people experiencing homelessness.