As the city continues to grapple with its affordable housing crisis and the sharp rise in the homeless population, rapid rehousing has been one of the few bright spots. However, a recent change in how the program is administered could create a self-re-enforcing system of continued homelessness and a growing homeless population. Due to a recent change all rapid re-housing subsidies end after one year; prior to this change the subsidies where reviewed by a case manager every three months.
In a Washington Post article shedding light on this issue, the author spends time with Nkechi Feaster, someone who would be considered a rapid re-housing success, but is currently on the brink of homelessness. As a recipient of the District’s rapid re-housing program Ms. Feaster was given a full housing subsidy to cover her monthly rent of $950 and her case was reviewed every three months. The next year, after she found a temp job as a community organizer paying $1,000 each month, the city asked her to put half of her income toward rent. Shortly after she began paying her rent in full, her temp position expired and she was once again facing financial hardship. Instead of helping families break the cycle of poverty, the program can contribute to very briefly delaying it. A program first developed in Los Angeles and Minneapolis in the 1980’s, rapid re-housing was intended as a crisis intervention program, not a tool to break generational poverty. Next year the city has appropriated $20 million to rapid re-housing, while funding for homeless family services is being reduced by $6 million.
According to the Interagency Council of Homelessness families displaced are expected to increase 16% this winter and there is still huge demand for affordable housing in the city. Rapid re-housing is a phenomenal tool for quickly assisting displaced and homeless families, helping them find housing in difficult times, but to truly curb homelessness it must be paired with complementary programs that helps move families out of poverty and into stable housing. The city needs to continue to focus on funding the Interagency Council on Homelessness’ plan to end chronic homelessness by 2020, creating new units through the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) whose rents are supported by the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP). As CNHED testified in May 2014, “ If we instead continue to focus our attention only on the “crisis” of homelessness and fail to increase the stock of affordable housing, we continue to fail these families and individuals, providing them with only an overcrowded shelter system, and no real strategies to prevent homelessness or provide permanent affordable housing.” Rapid re-housing is a great tool if used strategically, and can only work alongside these other production tools. All of these tools, used correctly, will be greatly needed in the city’s battle to curb the homelessness crisis.