Government

HACAP's end of transitional housing leads to concerns

Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady Homeless Services, shares plans Jan. 22 for a house recently purchased by Willis Dady in the Wellington Heights neighborhood of southeast Cedar Rapids. Once renovated, the house will be able to accommodate six people in permanent housing, supported by a staff member from Willis Dady. Trepp said the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program’s shift from transitional housing has raised concerns over where low-income would go now. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady Homeless Services, shares plans Jan. 22 for a house recently purchased by Willis Dady in the Wellington Heights neighborhood of southeast Cedar Rapids. Once renovated, the house will be able to accommodate six people in permanent housing, supported by a staff member from Willis Dady. Trepp said the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program’s shift from transitional housing has raised concerns over where low-income would go now. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Amid a federal shift in philosophy over how best to deal with homelessness and how to pay for it, the nonprofit Hawkeye Area Community Action Program has decided to phase out its transitional housing offerings and concentrate on affordable housing units instead.

HACAP’s move away from transitional housing — temporary housing and social services for homeless people — may hold other benefits, but could mean higher rents for some or loss of housing now for others.

Heather Harney, with HACAP Housing Stabilization, said the change is part of a larger evolution in priorities at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been moving away from transitional housing for about eight years. HACAP stopped receiving HUD funds for transitional housing last year, Harney said.

In response, HACAP last year began shifting some transitional units to affordable housing. HACAP’s remaining approximately 80 transitional housing units — about 52 in Linn County and another 30 in Johnson County — will become affordable housing units Sunday.

“We held off a bit longer than we thought we would ... it just caught up with us — the defunding of this type of service,” Harney said. “When HUD changes what they think is an effective model, we have to change, too.”

Harney said some of HACAP’s transitional housing residents — HACAP had 74 people in transitional housing this January, according to a Continuum of Care report — may see their rent increase now.

HACAP’s transitional housing residents paid 30 percent of their income for rent. Rent for affordable housing units on the other hand, is set at a percentage of the fair market rate.

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Some transitional housing residents who lack the ability to pay for an affordable housing unit might be forced back to an emergency housing shelter, she added.

“Some people will be paying about the same as they had been and some may have to pay more. It just kind of depends on what their income level was before,” Harney said. “We believe it’s the best thing we can do, given the circumstances, to continue to serve the homeless population and maintain our ability to provide that service to the community.”

Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady Homeless Services, which has a 32-bed capacity, said the change has created some concerns that low-income individuals who used to live in transitional housing might soon find themselves without a place to stay.

“We all know there is not a lot of safe, desirable housing for people who aren’t making a lot of money. This puts the pressure all the more on shelters and the community at large,” she said.

Trepp said Willis Dady already has taken in one family who said they used to stay at a HACAP residence. Another five families have called seeking support, she added.

Shift in priorities

HUD’s shift away from transitional housing began nearly 10 years ago, with the belief that permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing programs have proved to be more successful in getting and keeping people out of homelessness.

Transitional housing units are provided on a temporary basis for no more than two years. In exchange for housing, HACAP’s tenants — who still are considered homeless while in transitional housing — spent 30 percent of their income on rent and were required to take part in support services.

On the other hand, rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing programs provide a more stable solution with time-limited financial assistance and access to support programming.

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Crissy Canganelli, executive director of Iowa City’s Shelter House, said those programs often aim to get people into housing first, and then provide stability and support.

“You have to have all the different components in place,” she said. “Rapid rehousing is not just giving someone money for a security deposit and rent and walking away. ... Without that continuum of services by the provider, and making that available, it falls short.”

To address a nationwide shift in methodology, HUD funding allocations have followed suit — shifting away from transitional housing.

Of HUD’s more than $1.67 billion award to Continuum of Care programs in 2012, more than $417 million — 25 percent — was provided for transitional housing.

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

In 2016, HUD allocated nearly $2 billion to programs. But of that, only about $108 million, or 6 percent — went to transitional housing.

In the same span, rapid rehousing funds increased from $13 million in 2012 to nearly $250 million in 2016. Permanent supportive housing funds increased in that time by more than $400 million to $1.4 billion.

Data provided by Linn County Community Services show area providers maintained about 320 transitional housing beds from 2013 through early 2017. In that same span, those beds were serving anywhere between about 200 to 280 people.

The number of transitional housing beds dropped to about 250 last July. HACAP provided the most beds in that count, serving 74 people with 131 available beds.

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Transitional housing units were funded largely through HUD dollars, while affordable housing requires the tenant to pay a portion of the rent, with the landlord subsidized for the remaining rent through various offerings like vouchers.

“When we lose our federal support and funding, we have to make the best choice for the low-income tenants that we have and get an amount of rent to sustain the units. What we don’t want to do is have to sell our units, because that will decrease the amount of affordable units in the community. If we sell them we don’t know what happens to them,” Harney said.

Network of services

While federal funding has forced changes at HACAP, some area transitional housing providers — such as those for individuals dealing with domestic violence or substance abuse — still receive HUD funds and say a level of transitional housing still is needed.

Gayle Kelley, clinical director with the Area Substance Abuse Council, which has 24 units in Cedar Rapids and another 10 in Clinton, said its programming is expected to continue.

The council’s transitional housing options cater to those in recovery from substance abuse.

“We give priority to folks who have successfully completed substance abuse disorder treatment. We’re doing this as part of their recovery,” Kelley said.

Jennifer Tibbetts, transitional housing program manager with the Catherine McAuley Center, said it’s the center’s mission to continue providing transitional housing and support services to women who have experienced trauma. The center provides 15 beds.

“It’s this whole network that really just helps women succeed and helps women find that hope in their life again,” Tibbetts said.

However, Tibbetts did add there’s a concern that some in HACAP’s transitional housing program will be unable to pay an affordable housing rent and could put strain on the other remaining beds.

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“With HACAP making this shift into fair market housing, there is a concern of where are people going to find housing who need it?” she said.

Linn County Continuum of Care, a group of health, shelter and prevention services providers, perform a Point-in-Time count twice a year to help tabulate local homelessness.

The group’s most recent count this January found that 317 people — 132 men, 98 women and 87 children — were served by local emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities or were living on the street.

The total number of homeless individuals identified by the count dropped to a three-year-low last July, with 297 people. Three years ago, in January 2015, 461 people were counted.

Of the homeless individuals counted this January, 174 people — 58 men, 60 women and 56 children — were being served by transitional housing programs. At the time, the organization counted 246 total transitional housing beds — 131 provided by HACAP.

J’nae Peterman, director of homeless and housing services for Waypoint Services, said a benefit of HACAP’s shift is it will add more units to the community’s affordable housing stock.

There were 1,296 affordable housing units in Linn County in December 2017, Peterman said. At the same time, the community had 10,270 households that fell below 30 percent of the area median income.

“Transitional housing is still considered a homeless situation,” Peterman said. “Shifting these units to affordable housing will actually bring more affordable housing units into the community, which is what we truly need.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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