Several of the Melville Trust’s grantee partners play a critical role in impacting federal policy to improve the lives of those experiencing homelessness and those who are most at-risk. Profiled below are two such national partners, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Alliance to End Homelessness. These groups lead the way in analysis, development and advocacy for policies that benefit the most vulnerable in our country. Their work is profoundly complementary and helps us to build a more comprehensive view of solutions to prevent and end homelessness.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities focuses on federal and state fiscal policies that affect low- to moderate-income individuals and families. The Center projects the short- and long-term impacts of proposed policies on the economy to determine the federal and state governments’ ability to follow through on their stated priorities. It also tracks policy impact across these divides, seeking ways to strengthen public programs and, through advocacy and reform, to alleviate poverty and to assist those relying on these programs.
The Trust has supported the Center’s work on housing-related policy and research since 2004. The Center’s comprehensive fiscal analysis shapes the discussion around federal policy and funding for rental assistance. Led by Barbara Sard, the housing team pursues both defensive and proactive solutions to vexing low-income housing policy issues. Rental subsidies are continuously under threat, and the housing team’s work protecting them is key for preventing and ending homelessness.
In 2001, for example, the Center advocated for the protection of low-income housing programs. It illustrated the dire effects cuts would have on current tenants, and projected how many newly poor families would not receive rental assistance. Their analysis proposed funding solutions that ultimately preserved almost all of the vouchers that had been on the chopping block. The Center’s analysis of the impact of sequestration on low-income families is widely cited–these cuts denied vouchers to 140,000 families in 2014.
While low-income renters are more likely to be spending over 30% of their income on housing, only one in four eligible households receives rental assistance. The Center has proposed the creation of federal tax credits that would be claimed by rental housing owners or lenders in exchange for reduced rents for low-income tenants. This federal renters’ tax credit could reduce rents for over a million poor families at a modest cost while advancing a more balanced housing policy. This type of creative and thoughtful policy option is worth pursuing as tax reform remains on the Congressional agenda.
National Alliance to End Homelessness
The patient, practical, collaborative, and data-driven approach of the National Alliance to End Homelessness serves as a model for national and local advocacy. Their ability to build bipartisan support for evidence-based practices has delivered steady results through the fourteen years of the Trust’s investment. Their work has paved the way most recently for the tremendous $176 million increase in HUD’s homeless assistance programs in 2014, the largest in four years. The end of veteran homelessness now looms tantalizingly close, providing a model for ending all chronic homelessness–through housing first, with services. The strategy is not new, however, seeing it appropriately resourced, implemented, and succeeding is a landmark. As the Alliance’s Executive Director Nan Roman points out, the success of housing veterans begs the question–”what next?” What does an end to homelessness mean? The next challenges will include planning for effective homeless prevention systems and monitoring their implementation.
Last September the Trust also funded a three-year NAEH project to develop national standards and a strengthened technical assistance program for communities to implement rapid re-housing. Starting in 2004, communities across the country were able to experiment with rapid re-housing through the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP). Most municipalities made quick use of the funds for short-term rental assistance and limited case management. These are low cost interventions compared with shelter or transitional housing. More importantly, providers have found that a majority of those served by rapid re-housing do not return to homelessness. While rapid re-housing is generally seen as effective, there are not clear and agreed upon definitions of best practices. NAEH is undertaking a three-year project to develop a common understanding of rapid re-housing, create an effective federal policy infrastructure, and build community capacity to implement rapid re-housing.
Additionally, along with the Raikes Foundation, the Trust is co-funding NAEH convenings of experienced practitioners from around the country to participate in structured national discussions of best practices to reduce the number of homeless youth. The lack of clearly identified solutions to youth homelessness has stymied the ability to build the public and political will to end it. Research knowledge must be developed, but in the meantime, it makes sense to tap this practice knowledge to guide the discussion. The knowledge emerging from these structured discussions will be reported in four brief papers.