USICH to U.S. Conference of Mayors: “We Need Your Help”

August 25, 2021
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On August 25, USICH Interim Executive Director Anthony Love addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) Community Development and Housing Committee.

He asked mayors and local leaders to: 

  • Raise awareness about and drop administrative barriers to emergency rental assistance;
  • Use the American Rescue Plan to quickly rehouse people experiencing homelessness, especially those living unsheltered; and
  • Develop more affordable housing for the lowest-income renters.

Read his prepared remarks below:

Good afternoon, I am Anthony Love, and I currently serve as the interim executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, better known to some of you as USICH. We are responsible for coordinating the federal response to homelessness, and we are also the only federal agency whose sole mission is focused on preventing and ending homelessness. The council is comprised of leaders from 19 federal agencies, and we meet on a quarterly basis. During our last meeting, we had many Cabinet members attend, including the secretaries of HUD, HHS, and VA. One of our primary statutory obligations is to create and implement a new Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. We are in the process of collecting information from folks around the country on what a new Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness should look like. If you have thoughts about it, we'd love to hear from you. We’re also collecting feedback online and will soon begin conducting listening sessions with various stakeholders. Our regional coordinators who are based throughout the country are available to work with local governments to help you create partnerships, use resources effectively, and implement best practices. The federal strategic plan will reiterate our commitment to evidence-based practices like Housing First and centering racial equity to ensure that the people have equitable access to housing and resources and achieve equitable outcomes. 

There’s a mountain of research to back the benefits of Housing First. USICH, and the Biden administration, believe housing should be a right – not a privilege. During the last couple years, our commitment to Housing First was in question. I want folks to understand that even though there was a shift in the appointed leadership during the last 18 months of the previous administration, USICH staff remained committed to Housing First and to working with communities to promote evidence-based practices. Housing First – not Housing Only – is flexible, values client choice, offers services that are tailored to the need of the client, and focuses on screening people into housing not out of housing. This intervention has proven effective by improving the health of the folks that are housed, resulting in lower returns to homelessness and reduced usage of emergency services like emergency rooms, jails, and treatment centers. It’s also been proven to be the most effective intervention for people who are chronically homeless. 

Since the launch of our first federal strategic plan, homelessness has dropped by 9% – almost 50% among veterans and nearly 30% among families. Also, 82 communities and 3 states have met the federal criteria and benchmarks to be recognized as having ended veteran homelessness. But over the last few years, much of that progress stalled. Since 2016, homelessness has been on the rise, and some troubling trends have emerged. For the first time since we started collecting this data, unsheltered homelessness exceeded sheltered homelessness. Also, the number of unsheltered families with children increased. All of this data was captured before the pandemic. If we don’t act now to rehouse people and develop affordable housing, it will likely get worse before it gets better. 

On top of that, millions of Americans are worried about getting evicted. My colleagues at HUD have already addressed this, so I don't need to repeat it, however, I just want to reiterate that even though the money is beginning to get out, we need to continue to get the word out and to make sure these resources [emergency rental assistance] get into the hands of the people who need them. We need your help to raise awareness and do whatever you can do to get ease administrative barriers to this vital [emergency rental] assistance. 

Additionally, the American Rescue Plan provides a historic amount of resources that can significantly reduce homelessness in some communities and end it in others. We must take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity. It’s estimated that the American Rescue Plan and the CARES Act resources, if used effectively, can rehouse more than 200,000 households in just a few years. That would be more than ever before. There are an increasing number of people experiencing homelessness, and most are unsheltered; this is an opportunity to get these folks rehoused quickly. 

I can't stress the need for affordable housing enough. We need more – a lot more. Even before the pandemic, we had a shortage of 7 million affordable homes for the lowest-income renters. 70% of these households spend more than half their incomes on rent. They can’t save, and one unexpected expense could leave them homeless. If we don’t expand the supply of affordable housing, we’re never going to end homelessness. The American Rescue Plan offers at least two ways to address this: The development of new affordable housing and the opportunity to rehouse people who are currently homeless as quickly as possible. Housing ends homelessness. Lack of truly affordable housing is a challenge in most communities. You now have at your disposal, essential resources to ensure your constituents, that includes folks who are homeless, can have access to safe and affordable housing and begin the process of pursuing their personal goals and improving their quality of life. 

There are billions of dollars available right now, more than ever before, that can help us prevent and end homelessness. USICH has published a guide to help you navigate the dozens of [American Rescue Plan] funding streams and figure out how to use them in your city. If you still have questions, reach out to the regional coordinator that covers the region in which your city is located. We’re here to help and be a resource for you. Even before the new federal strategic plan is developed, we can, with strong partnerships and evidence-based best practices, turn these existing resources, and this moment, into lasting solutions that offer every American what they deserve: a place to call home. 

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