Promising Practices: Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority and EDEN, Inc.

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Solutions Brief | March 8, 2011

Files: Cuyahoga/EDEN Eviction Brief | 211 KB | 2 pages

Overview
Research shows that a housing subsidy is the strongest protective factor we know of to keep vulnerable populations from entering homelessness. Conversely, the risk of homelessness is very high among those who once had a subsidy but lost it due to an eviction. Such people are often prohibited or restricted from receiving a housing subsidy again, and are also disadvantaged in the private market due to the eviction record. The problem is particularly acute among low income people with disabilities and elderly households, many of whom really cannot afford any private sector housing due to their extremely meager incomes (largely Supplemental Security Income benefits). Thus an eviction from assisted housing puts them at high risk of homelessness. It is, therefore, important to avoid evictions from assisted housing, and some communities have implemented innovative eviction prevention programs to achieve that goal.

In 2007, the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) partnered with the Cleveland-based Emerald Development and Economic Network (EDEN), Inc. to reduce the number of elderly individuals and people with disabilities being evicted from subsidized housing in Cuyahoga County. CMHA recognized that these two groups represented a significant percentage of the households evicted from their subsidized housing, and that evictions were disruptive to those evicted and costly to CMHA. In partnership with CMHA, EDEN hired an outreach worker to conduct home visits with tenants at risk of eviction in order to help them preserve their housing subsidies.

Program History and Description
For over 20 years, EDEN has developed and provided safe and affordable housing for disabled and formerly homeless persons in Cleveland, Ohio. EDEN manages and owns properties, and also administers rental subsidies including 1,800 Shelter Plus Care vouchers and over 2,500 Section 8 vouchers.

EDEN and CMHA had a history of working together, going back ten years. At that time, CMHA was concerned that people with disabilities were not accessing Section 8 vouchers, even though they were eligible for this type of rental assistance. A number of service providers for individuals with disabilities partnered together and requested that they be authorized to identify and refer people with disabilities to the Authority. CMHA allocated 750 vouchers for this initiative, dividing the vouchers equally between elderly households and individuals with disabilities. Through this partnership EDEN began to refer individuals for these vouchers, process voucher applications, and forward completed applications to CMHA for final approval.

Because of their preexisting relationship, in 2007 CMHA approached EDEN with a concern that there was an unacceptably high level of turnover in Authority-managed vouchers held by elderly tenants or tenants with a disability. CMHA and EDEN both recognized the challenges faced by households headed by an older or disabled adult. One difficulty was housing affordability and the challenge of obtaining affordable housing post-eviction. Many of the at-risk households were dependent on SSI benefits. At the time of the initiative, the average monthly income of a SSI recipient was $668—only 18.6 percent of national median income for a one-person household and an insufficient level of income for a market-rate apartment if a tenant were to lose his or her subsidy. Furthermore, nearly all of these tenants were at risk of eviction simply because they had not submitted their renewal paperwork or had missed a required appointment at CMHA—not because they had failed to pay rent, posed a risk, or were disruptive to the community. CMHA was concerned that a high percentage of this vulnerable population was at risk of eviction and subsequently becoming homeless.

EDEN and CMHA partnered to create a pilot program to reduce evictions among elderly households and individuals with disabilities. CMHA agreed to make a monthly referral to EDEN of 40 households that were in danger of being evicted because they had not submitted renewal paperwork. CMHA provided monthly payment installments to EDEN that enabled them to hire an outreach worker to conduct home visits and complete the paperwork of at-risk clients on the spot. The outreach worker sent completed paperwork to CMHA, who then completed all of the necessary processing and follow-up work such as background checks on additions to households. CMHA also supplemented EDEN’s work with their own efforts to contact additional tenants at risk of eviction.

By the end of the pilot, CMHA learned many important lessons that they were able to implement in their ongoing eviction prevention efforts. These lessons are also useful for communities looking to address evictions among their elderly tenants and tenants with disabilities.

Outcomes
Every individual referred by CMHA was at risk of losing his or her subsidy due to having missed an appointment or having incomplete paperwork. A key function of the initiative was ensuring that a tenant’s paperwork was complete to make certain the tenant retained his or her housing subsidy. EDEN found that the most challenging aspect of the project was locating tenants, as many tenants had changed apartments within their complex and failed to inform CMHA. Through EDEN and CMHA’s efforts, more than 92 percent of referred clients were contacted. In every one of these cases the intervention provided was enough to prevent an eviction and enabled the tenant to retain his or her subsidy.

The outreach worker hired by EDEN found that many tenants were at risk of eviction simply due to incomplete paperwork. Some tenants stated that they had mailed in their paperwork, and CMHA claimed to have not received the information. Several addresses were also incorrectly listed in the system due to moves within the apartment complex and CMHA was not notified. Other tenants, attending walk-in days for missed appointments, reported that they were unable to be served when they arrived at CMHA because it was too crowded, or because they did not have proper documentation to complete the recertification.

The pilot initiative lasted for four months, at which point CMHA was no longer able to fund it due to increased expenses for other Authority functions. While the pilot has ended, the lessons learned and impressive outcomes reached show that there is great promise for reducing evictions and preventing homelessness for this very vulnerable population with a unique set of needs by connecting with tenants and taking simple precautions.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

Paperwork Submission
Throughout the course of the project, EDEN found that Section 8 voucher holders were most often at-risk of eviction because of a failure to submit necessary paperwork. This happened for a variety of reasons:

  • Tenants were in hospitals or rehabilitation centers;
  • A tenant’s ability to go to the Housing Authority and renew paperwork was impeded by mental health or physical disabilities; and
  • A tenant had relocated and failed to provide CHMA his or her new address.

It was notable that nearly all of the imminent evictions were easily preventable with minimal additional support. An additional level of follow-up that had not been feasible prior to the creation of the EDEN outreach position was all that was needed to ensure that a tenant retained his or her voucher.

Partnering with Housing Authorities
If a direct service provider is interested in partnering with its local housing authority for the first time, it is very useful for the provider to be familiar with the authority in order to find areas where the two organizations could collaborate. If the provider can see a gap in services, or identify a population that could use assistance beyond what is provided by the housing authority, the provider then has a compelling reason to offer their assistance. CMHA found that the pilot was particularly successful because of the pre-existing relationship with EDEN. CMHA only had to do minimal training about agency protocols with the outreach worker. EDEN suggests that when possible, a partner nonprofit organization should have direct experience working with their housing authority, and should be knowledgeable about the authority’s processes.

Staff Efforts
The success of an eviction prevention initiative is largely determinant on staff effort. EDEN attributes a large portion of the initiative’s success to the individual they hired for the role who was very outgoing, resourceful, self-assured, and committed to finding people and making them feel comfortable. EDEN found that it was useful for the outreach worker have a badge with a picture, and try to make contact with a tenant before their visit. Flexibility was also essential to success on the personal level. If a voucher holder preferred to not have the EDEN staff member come to their home, the outreach worker would meet the tenant at a neutral location such as the local McDonalds.