The following is a guest blog post by Jacqueline Altamirano Marin, Program Associate at the Vera Institute of Justice.
Interview with Alan Zais, Illinois Reentry Task Force member and Executive Director of the Winnebago County Housing Authority
As much of the country continues to observe stay-at-home orders, some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, including people leaving prisons and jails, continue to struggle with access to safe and stable housing. Housing organizations have sprung into action to create guides that help Public Housing Authorities (PHA) not only reunite returning community members with their friends and families but also provide safe reentry during these unprecedented times. PHAs can take this time to rethink their policies towards people with conviction histories. In this conversation, the Vera Institute of Justice talks to Alan Zais, Illinois Reentry Task Force member and Executive Director of the Winnebago County Housing Authority about what housing authorities can do to help people reentering find safe homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- We know the Illinois Department of Corrections has released 4,000 people in response to the pandemic. How are you and other housing authority directors talking about housing access for people with conviction histories during COVID-19?
The pandemic that affected so many in prison was just one part—those released had the trauma of being exposed and then the trauma of trying to find a place they could afford to live. Housing authorities have needed to be sensitive both to the trauma and the need to provide housing to impact against any like surge in recidivism. Housing authorities also have finite resources and waitlists that can have applicants waiting months to years [to secure housing]. It’s a complex problem, but fortunately, one easy solution is to let released people reunite with their families that are already in housing.
The pandemic is just one piece of this moment. The protests prompted by the deaths of George Floyd and many others have brought the focus to the inequities Black Americans face in criminal charges, convictions, and criminal histories. At this moment, housing authorities can help their communities make these transformational changes to recognize [that] how we currently review criminal histories can be inconsistent from one agency to another and based on a conviction system that is inequitable and disproportionate towards people of color.
All of this has dramatically raised the conversation of housing access for persons with criminal histories to a high profile and urgent discussion.
Yesterday, HUD published a notice titled “Registration of Interest for HUD-VASH Vouchers” (PIH 2020-14). The notice announces the availability of $50 million for new HUD-VASH vouchers which allow homeless veterans to access housing with supportive services.
Public Housing Agencies that are interested in receiving an allocation of HUD-VASH vouchers must email VASH_ROI@hud.gov by midnight (in the PHA’s time zone) of September 15, 2020. To be eligible, PHAs must have a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program and meet certain threshold requirements:
- Utilization Requirements (only for PHAs that currently have a HUD-VASH program with more than 25 vouchers):
- Minimum of 70% HUD-VASH unit utilization rate; or
- Greater than 100% HUD-VASH budget utilization rate;
- Capacity to administer HUD-VASH vouchers:
- No major unresolved program management findings;
- No significant program compliance issues;
- No unresolved civil rights matters; and
- Signed Letter of Support from a partnering Veterans Affairs (VA) facility.
To register interest for the vouchers with HUD, PHAs must consult their partnering VA facility to discuss their intentions of registering their interest and request a letter of support for HUD-VASH. The letters do not need to include a specific number of vouchers requested. The PHA must then send an email to HUD for each facility it partners with.
The email must meet certain requirements. The subject line should read “Registration of Interest [followed by the PHA code].” The body of the email should identify the name of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) or Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), the Veterans Integrated Services number (VISN), and the facility’s Station ID. Finally, all registrations of interest must include a signed letter of support from the partnering entity.
The notice also makes several other miscellaneous points. Interested PHAs are encouraged to consult with their Continuum of Care lead agency, though PHAs are not required to provide a letter of support from them. The Department is establishing a minimum of 5 vouchers allocated and a maximum of 500 vouchers allocated per agency. Some PHAs will be invited to apply for HUD-VASH vouchers.
The full notice may be found here.
Earlier today, HUD published an eviction prevention and stability toolkit. The toolkit consists of six documents that offer “information and resources to PHAs and HCV landlords on ways to stabilize families during and after COVID-19.” The documents are listed below.
- PHA brochure – this brochure “contains information on permitting repayment agreements and updating repayment agreement policies, adopting policies for retroactive interim reexaminations, directing outreach to households behind on rent, reviewing policies on minimum rent and financial hardship exemptions, and positioning residents for stability during and after COVID-19.”
- Tenant brochure – this brochure provides helpful information to help tenants avoid eviction through preventative strategies. It also provides tenants with information related to COVID-19; information related to protections for domestic and sexual violence; and other resources related to tenant needs (e.g., disaster distress helpline, unemployment insurance website, economic impact payments website, etc.).
- Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) landlord flyer – this flyer provides information for landlords to avoid evicting participants.
- Repayment agreement guidance – this document “centralizes HUD guidance on repayment agreements for PHAs and HCV landlords.”
- Sample repayment agreements – sample repayment agreements for public housing and the housing choice voucher program.
- COVID-19 resident needs assessment survey – a survey that may be used to “identify resident needs and potential reasons for nonpayment of rent.”
The full toolkit can be found on HUD’s Public and Indian Housing (PIH) coronavirus resources webpage.
The toolkit and other resources can also be found on NAHRO’s coronavirus resource page.
In an email sent earlier today, HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) stated that they will be holding a conference call on June 16, 2020 at 3 pm ET, which will feature 3 PHAs that will share PHA best practices during COVID-19. The Department invites PHAs to submit their own best practices and submit topics for future calls to PIH@hud.gov. Call in information is available below.
Step 1: Dial into the conference.
Dial-in: 1-877-369-5243 or 1-617-668-3633
Access Code: 0576321##
If the automated recording indicates the conference is full, please use overflow information:
Dial In: 1-877-369-5243 or 1-617-668-3633 Access Code: 0153620##
Step 2: Join the conference on your computer.
Entry Link: https://ems8.intellor.com/login/827974
A calendar invitation can be accessed by clicking here.
HUD’s Office of Housing Choice Vouchers has published a Frequently-Asked-Questions (FAQ) document about project-based vouchers (PBVs) and public housing repositioning. Topics covered in the document include the following (taken from the table of contents):
- Overview of Public Housing Repositioning Options;
- Project-basing TPVs: General;
- Project-basing TPVs: SAC Removal Tool Differences;
- TPVs and Voucher Management System Reporting;
- Project Basing: Existing Housing;
- Competitive and Noncompetitive Selection;
- Public Housing-Only Agencies;
- PBV HAP Contract;
- New Construction/Rehabilitation;
- PBVs and PHA Annual Plan;
- PBV General;
- PBVs and Section 18;
- PBVs and Section 22; and
- Traditional PBVs in RAD Covered Projects.
Additionally, the document cites the appropriate statutory, regulatory, or guidance (e.g., PIH Notices) authority in its answers.
The FAQ may be found here.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) has posted a COVID-19 Toolkit on the PIH Coronavirus webpage.
The toolkit consists of the following documents:
- COVID-19 Quick Guide – a nine page document that provides PHAs “with considerations as they develop strategies to address the impact of the pandemic on their staff.”
- COVID-19 Interaction Playbook for Housing Partners – an eight slide presentation (in PDF format) that lists points for safe distancing of staff, safe distancing of resident, safe distribution, responding to confirmed cases, other findings (e.g., residents will have reduced incomes, residents may not have access to the internet, etc.), case studies, and a slide with additional resources. [Google Chrome is the preferred browser to view this document.]
- COVID-19 Guidance for Housing Partners – a one page document with points on safe goods and services distribution practices and safe visiting practices.
- Coronavirus Prevention Flyer – a one page document created for residents.
- PHA Disaster Readiness and Preparation Guide – a 28 page document from 2016 on general disaster readiness and preparation from HUD.
The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials is pleased that HUD created and distributed these best practices and resources.
These resources and other COVID-19 related resources, can be found at www.nahro.org/coronavirus.
[6/10/2020 edit – added NAHRO’s COVID-19 resources page.]
Earlier today, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity sent an email to PHAs extending the deadline for submission of all Section 3 annual reports until July 31, 2020 because of the COVID-19 event. This does not impact reporting for agencies with deadlines due after the extension date. In the email, the Department also reminds PHAs that the SPEARS system transmits emails to agencies with reports due or overdue, and these emails should be ignored for those PHAs complying with this extension.
[6/10/2020 edit – typographical correction.]
I received word from a HUD official that the Mainstream Two-Year Tool is now available. For PHAs with Mainstream voucher programs, the Mainstream Two-Year Tool is within the regular Two-Year Tool and can be accessed by clicking the “Access Additional Tools” button. Additionally, the tool provides information on cash management to be used to assess the need for additional disbursements. “Reserve reconciliations” will be sent this week for PHAs with Mainstream programs.
The Two-Year Tool may be accessed here.
Earlier today, HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing published its update to its Frequently-Asked-Questions (FAQ) document on COVID-19. This updated brings the document to version 4. NAHRO staff is still in the process of reading through the document.
The updated PIH FAQ for COVID-19 (version 4) may be found here.
In a RADBlast! email earlier today, HUD noted that they have updated one of their COVID-19 FAQs with additional information on RAD conversions during the COVID-19 event. According to the email, this update includes “further guidance on completing environmental reports when professionals may not be able to access the interior or exterior of the site . . . [and] provides an option that would give PHAs more time to execute new Section 8 leases at the point of conversion.”
The updated FAQ may be found here.
[5/21/2020 – edited for clarity.]