Testimony at the Public Oversight Hearing on DHS Implementation of Housing Investments

DCFPI Senior Policy Analyst Kate Coventry Testimony at Public Oversight Hearing on “The Department of Human Services’ Implementation of Historic Housing Investments,” DC Council Committee on Human Services, November 3, 2022 

 Chairperson Nadeau and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry, and I am a senior policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI). DCFPI is a non-profit organization that shapes racially-just tax, budget, and policy decisions by centering Black and brown communities in our research and analysis, community partnerships, and advocacy efforts to advance an antiracist, equitable future.

I am here today to ask the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) to outline an action plan for implementing the historic investments made in the “Homes and Hearts Amendment Act of 2021” (“Homes and Hearts”), given that the government has leased up only 25 percent of the tenant Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) vouchers for individuals made available in fiscal year (FY) 2022. Lease up is the final stage of the voucher process—when a client signs their lease and can move into the apartment. I also ask that the agencies commit to timely and regular updates on initiatives in progress, including the release of core implementation metrics, so that stakeholders can monitor implementation.

Black residents bear the brunt of this delay in voucher implementation. Eighty-nine percent of unaccompanied adults counted in the District 2022 Point in Time Count were Black. This is the result of the enduring legacies of structural and individualized racism — such as racist zoning and residential segregation, redlining, restrictive covenants, and practices barring federal employment — that for years prohibited Black families from equitably accessing the housing and employment markets. This has led to the current racial wealth gap as wealth accumulates over generations. Additionally, the historic denial of homeownership opportunities to people of color through discriminatory lending practices means that most Black residents, even middle-income residents, are renters, and rental costs in the District have risen substantially.  

Implementation of “Homes and Hearts” Transformative Investment in PSH Is Falling Short 

DCFPI thanks the Council for passing “Homes and Hearts,” which imposes a modest increase in the income tax rate for the District’s wealthiest residents to make historic investments in affordable housing, among other transformative programs. In addition to investments in housing for families experiencing homelessness and in affordable housing for other residents, the amendment funds 1,924 PSH vouchers for individuals in the FY 2022 budget. PSH combines tenant vouchers with wrap-around services, including intensive case management and help managing health problems.

This investment, in addition to 532 new PSH slots for individuals using federal Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs), created a total of 2,456 new PSH tenant vouchers. Given this was by far the largest number of total and newly funded PSH slots ever available in the District, DCFPI and other advocates expected that implementation would be challenging, anticipating that agencies would need an extra three months — the first quarter of FY 2023 — to help all clients to lease up. But implementation delays are much worse than anticipated, with only 258 of the 1,924 locally-funded PSH vouchers and 371 of the 532 EHVs leased up. At this pace, the agencies will need nearly 35 months to lease up all FY 2022 vouchers and an additional 8.5 months to lease up the 500 locally-funded PSH tenant vouchers available in FY 2023. 

First, DCFPI acknowledges that DHS is facing a number of challenges: COVID-19, monkeypox, and providing humanitarian aid and shelter to migrants other states are bussing into the city, among other challenges that are consuming staff capacity. But we must treat these implementation delays seriously because they have real costs for the individuals experiencing them, such as spending more time not knowing where they’re going to spend the night and struggling to receive needed services like medical treatment or counseling. As they wait on a voucher, these residents who are unhoused are often forced to stay in places that are unsafe or make their illnesses worse.

DCFPI asks the agencies to release an action plan informed by stakeholders to fully utilize all FY 2022 and FY 2023 resources. The action plan should include specific steps each agency will take to connect residents who are unhoused to PSH vouchers and services, and it should include deadlines for each step and updates on initiatives that have been announced but not yet implemented. For example, providers are struggling to hire case managers. DHS announced that case managers would receive hiring and retention bonuses but has yet to implement this policy.

DHS should outline how they are addressing delays related to the switch to Medicaid funding for PSH services. Medicaid requires all new and existing clients to undergo a conflict-free assessment by an agency that is not a PSH service provider. DHS has decided it will perform all the assessments. Many PSH providers have shared that this is causing delays — both for receiving new referrals and for facilitating client-requested provider changes. DHS must ensure they have sufficient staffing to do these assessments in a timely fashion. If they do not have the staffing capacity, or if it appears that this process is causing significant delays, DCFPI recommends that clients be moved into housing first, perhaps using funding from FY 2022 underspending, and undergo the conflict-free assessment after they are stably housed. 

Additionally, the agencies should implement a new 100-day boot camp, a practice that DC used to speed up the housing placement process for veterans experiencing homelessness. The boot camp brings together decision makers in government agencies, service providers, and individuals with lived experience to systematically investigate issues and quickly develop solutions. A coordinated effort is key as only by acting together can the lease up process be improved.

DHS and DCHA Should Regularly Provide Data so Stakeholders Can Monitor Progress 

DHS has just released a public-facing Voucher Dashboard so that the DC Council and other stakeholders can monitor implementation. This Dashboard includes: 

  • the total number of vouchers by type; 
  • how many vouchers are matched to a client; 
  • how many clients are preparing an application; 
  • how many clients have a pending application; 
  • how many clients have approved applications; and, 
  • how many clients have leased up. 

This is a great start, but the Dashboard is missing some key information. For example, the Dashboard reports total time from match to lease up by voucher type but lacks specifics on each step of the lease up process that would help stakeholders understand delays. The agency should either add information to the existing dashboard or create a separate dashboard accessible to the Council, DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) stakeholders, and providers who are part of the program expansion in order to help these stakeholders pinpoint problems and bottlenecks. Each major step of the process should be listed. At a minimum, the dashboard should include the number who: 

  • have all the required documents readily available; 
  • are missing documents according to the DCHA system; 
  • have identified a unit to rent; and, 
  • are waiting for a unit inspection by DCHA. 

The dashboard should also document the average amount of time spent at each step. As part of the action plan, DHS and DCHA should create target outcomes by month for the number to have achieved each step as well as create target outcomes for length of time each household spends at each step. A monthly written report on data and outcomes should be submitted to the Committee on Human Services and the DC ICH for their review and input. 

The dashboard should also document the racial and gender breakdown of those receiving resources to ensure equity in the distribution of vouchers.

DCFPI envisions a future where no one is homeless for a long time and no one dies without the dignity of a home. The new resources will bring us much closer to this goal but only if we speed up current implementation.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify, and I’m happy to answer any questions.