PHAs can create preferences to help people who have been homeless and/or have special needs reach the top of their waitlists. Some examples of preferences for people who can benefit from supportive housing include those for people who are homeless; people who are working with service providers; people who have had difficulty with housing stability; families that are involved with the child welfare system; young adults; and people being discharged from institutions.
PHAs can set local preferences for specific numbers of applicants in public housing buildings, and they can include preferences for people who are referred by particular service agencies. Changes to local preferences require a change to the PHA’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy, and they must be based on local housing needs and priorities as determined by generally accepted data sources. The Consolidated Plan for your PHA’s jurisdiction is an important source of data, as are your local Plan to End Homelessness and Opening Doors, the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
Reduce Screening Criteria
PHAs that want to break down barriers for people who are stuck in homelessness can re-evaluate their screening criteria. It may be valuable for PHAs to review statutory and regulatory provisions that bar admission to persons with criminal histories versus those provisions that require PHAs to have policies in place regarding exclusions, versus others that simply give PHAs the discretion to exclude people with certain backgrounds. (See 24 CFR 960.204 for more information.) PHAs should acknowledge those discretionary policies that may be thwarting other best efforts to house homeless people and consider how they can better “screen in” this population. Exercising this discretion may be particularly worthwhile for prospective tenants who are working with a service provider and will benefit from the stability of housing to start or continue their rehabilitation.
It is important to note that the only lifetime bans under the public housing program are as follows:
1. Individuals found to have manufactured or produced methamphetamine on the grounds of federally assisted housing.
2. Sex offenders subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a State sex offender registration program
PHAs are also required to prohibit admission in the following cases related to substance use and criminal activity, though in most cases mitigating circumstances can be taken into consideration.
- If the applicant was evicted from federally assisted housing within the past three years for drug-related criminal activity. However, a PHA may admit if the evicted household member who engaged in criminal activity has successfully completed a supervised drug rehab program, or the circumstances leading to eviction no longer exist (e.g., the criminal household member has died or is imprisoned).
- If any household member is currently engaged in illegal drug use.
- If the PHA determines that a household member’s illegal drug use, pattern of illegal drug use, abuse of alcohol or pattern of abuse of alcohol may threaten the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.
Many PHAs are surprised to learn that their own, more complicated screening processes are locally-imposed and not required by HUD. If your PHA has a policy with multiple layers of screening criteria beyond these requirements, it may have been established in an attempt to mitigate a perceived risk that people with criminal histories won’t succeed in housing. In fact, this is not the case. Studies have shown that individuals with a stable place to live upon release from correctional settings are less likely to be re-incarcerated. Click here for more information about supportive housing and re-entry.
Incorporate the Input of Service Providers in Application Denial Appeals
In addition to reducing initial screening criteria, PHAs can establish appeals processes that take into account factors in a person’s life that show they are getting back on track. When someone is initially denied admission due to patterns of substance abuse or criminal histories, PHAs can consider mitigating factors through an appeal. These may include the recentness of questionable activities; completion of a rehabilitation program; and current or future involvement in a service program. Service partners who know prospective applicants can help answer questions about the applicant’s current and future access to supportive services and motivation for getting back on track.
Refer Tenants to Service Partners to Prevent Evictions
When PHAs have relationships with service providers, they can ask their partners to help them identify and address housing stability challenges before a problem leads to an eviction. Evictions from public housing cost money and staff time; run counter to an organization’s housing mission; and can leave families with little or no housing alternatives. Evictions can be especially destabilizing events for families with children. Yet evictions from public housing can be somewhat easier to prevent than those in the private market when PHAs are working closely with service providers.
There are many ways PHAs might attempt to lower eviction rates while protecting the safety or well-being of all tenants. At the heart of a strong eviction prevention program is regular communication between property management and support service staffs. An early “alarm and response” system ensures that the PHA is acting quickly to address problems that can lead to eviction. Housing and service partners find it most effective when they establish a weekly check-in to discuss any issues that could develop into threats to housing stability. Waiting until an issue is big enough to make a call to a service provider usually means waiting too long. By establishing a frequent, regular in-person or telephone check-in, PHAs and their partners can identify issues before they escalate.
PHAs and their partners can work together to develop an emergency assistance fund that is supported by philanthropy and/or government programs such as McKinney-Vento programs. In the wake of the foreclosure crisis it’s not uncommon for states, local governments or nonprofit consortia to have formed eviction prevention funds. PHAs that have effectively lowered eviction rates are not only great partners in community efforts to prevent and end homelessness, but have also likely seen reduced overall expenditures in legal fees and experience better morale among staff.
Create Opportunities for Resident Participation
HUD promotes resident participation and the active involvement of residents in all aspects of a PHA’s mission and operation. Resident involvement can help in creating a positive living environment and fostering housing stability. Part of encouraging resident participation includes promoting resident councils. Residents of public housing have a right to organize and elect a resident council to represent their interests, and PHAs are required to provide funds to elected resident councils to use for resident participation activities. Promoting resident participation helps residents to gain independence and take on leadership roles. Resident councils can also play a role in helping PHA staffs to identify residents that may be having a hard time in their housing or need additional access to services.
Provide Space for Service Providers
PHAs can create service agreements with local providers to step in when someone’s housing is in crisis. These services can be provided off-site through linkages and referrals or on-site if the PHA has room to offer space for social activities, groups or one-on-one counseling. Providers are often looking for places where they can have office space in close proximity to the people they are serving. Providing on-site services in your public housing buildings can also be an excellent way of establishing an additional staff presence.
Go to the next section to learn about roles that service providers partners can play in helping you address homelessness.