Eviction Prevention: A Conversation with Communities
Many jurisdictions are developing initiatives to reduce evictions and to meet the needs of their respective communities. Recently, we sat down with three communities for a roundtable discussion on eviction prevention: Emma Hertz, a program officer for the Department of Housing and Community Development in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania; Tom Albanese, the associate director of Community Shelter Board in Columbus, Ohio; and Heidi Marston, chief program officer, and Joshua Hall, acting director of policy and systems, for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in Los Angeles, California. They shared how their communities are working to prevent people from losing their housing and to divert people from entering the homelessness service system.
USICH: What was your motivation to get involved with eviction prevention?
Montgomery County, Pennsylvania: We launched our coordinated entry system in 2014 and turned our attention to making homelessness rare and preventable. We quantified the existing needs using data and developed program pilot ideas that were responsive to the needs of the community. We were intentional about avoiding duplication of existing practices. Our community contracted with Barbara Poppe, a consultant and former Executive Director of USICH, to conduct a local data analysis and pilot ideas. The analysis revealed that most families who experienced homelessness were renters. We noticed that many families entering into homelessness did not come from subsidized units, but rather the private market, so eviction prevention made sense as a solution to address this issue.
Columbus, Ohio: We have been involved with shelter diversion work for a number of years, beginning with families presenting for shelter starting in 1998, and with single adults presenting for shelter for about the past 10 years. Recently, Columbus had an unusual spike in family homelessness that did not correlate to the housing market or trends. We contracted with Abt Associates to examine the reason for the increase in families experiencing homelessness. The study revealed constraints and funding reductions in TANF benefits and TANF-funded emergency assistance for low-income families were a challenge for many families, and the increasingly competitive rental housing market also made it tough for families to find adequate rental housing, especially if the families had more than one barrier to access to overcome.
Los Angeles County, California: In March 2017, LA County voters approved Measure H, supporting increased sale’s tax by one-quarter percent (an estimated $355 million per year for a ten year period) to provide an ongoing revenue stream to fund homeless services, rental subsidies, and housing. In turn we expanded upon efforts started within our Family system and invested more resources into eviction prevention work, with focused efforts on ramping up homelessness prevention programs for adults and young adults. Our current focus is on building out efforts with legal services agencies to address barriers that impact people from getting into housing and support at-risk individuals with maintaining their housing.
USICH: What does eviction or homelessness prevention look like in your community?
Montgomery: Our eviction prevention initiative is a court-based model, open to people who are appearing in the courtroom on a pending eviction case. Case management and legal assistance are provided on the same day as the tenant hearing.
Columbus: We’ve taken a two-pronged approach to homelessness prevention: 1) a community-based homelessness prevention system, with defined access points, standardized risk assessment tool, and referral protocols; and 2) a targeted homelessness prevention “hub” at the front end of the crisis response system.
Los Angeles: Our homeless prevention program is focused on quickly connecting those at risk of homelessness to community-based providers through a prevention target tool designed to identify those with the highest predictive factors of becoming homeless. Our prevention programs are linked to legal services to ensure access to support for removal of legal barriers or support against eviction and other housing issues. We also have one small pilot program focused on upstream prevention for families in an area identified as one of the highest-risk zip codes in the region. Through the initiative we provide case management, legal services, and mediation, in addition to proactive outreach to both clients and landlords. It is housed in the city’s mainstream family services system (the FamilySource Centers) rather than in the homeless services system and uses a screening tool adapted from the HomeBase and the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program.
USICH: Who are your key partners and how did you bring them to the table?
Montgomery: The Office of Housing and Community Development proposed three project models for eviction prevention. We reached out to local constituent groups to determine which eviction prevention project would most resonate. This outreach helped us garner financial support for the project and establish a steering committee made up of the bar association, bar foundation, court system, staff members, a social service partner, and legal aid. The steering committee meets regularly to provide eviction prevention support. We also received a small grant from the bar foundation. The first year of this initiative, we plan to rely on pro bono attorneys. The second year, we will hire a part-time attorney in order to reduce this dependency. The local Department of Health and Human Services is also involved with our eviction prevention work.
Columbus: The Abt study provided a pivotal moment to get elected officials involved in this work. A County Commissioner initially convened a collaborative to address increasing homelessness among families, with part of the focus on stemming an alarming increase in rental evictions. The Preventing Family Homelessness Collaborative was born from this effort and continues to steward various efforts to reduce evictions and prevent homelessness. Community Shelter Board also convenes groups of stakeholders across sectors, including aging, youth, pregnant women, and Veterans, to develop more targeted, population-specific homelessness prevention approaches. Our partners who are invested in the work understand that eviction prevention goes beyond preventing literal homelessness. Our stakeholders also understand the underlying value of housing and the need to create different points of intervention.
Los Angeles County: As prevention for families at risk of homelessness was rolled out there was close alignment with The Los Angeles Department of Public Social Services and the Family Coordinated Entry System lead agencies. With the passage of Measure H, LAHSA facilitated community listening sessions to help design how prevention could be implemented across all populations, this is was also key in outlining how best legal services could be incorporated into the larger program design. Additional efforts were made to engage the gaining community to understand the growing needs for older adults as it relates to homelessness prevention. A taskforce focused on older adults was convened that included senior centers, the City of Los Angeles Aging Department, Los Angeles County Department of Aging, and lead homelessness service providers. Recommendations from this group provided direction in ensuring our prevention programs targeted older adults on fixed income.
USICH: As you developed these eviction prevention initiatives, who was the target population?
Montgomery: Our eviction prevention model targets specific zip codes, because the data revealed high rates of eviction correlated with school districts with the highest rates of McKinney-Vento students. We also investigated which areas had the highest volume of general calls to the Department of Health and Human Services. Targeting services in those locations meant our resources had a larger impact. Targeting services at one district court that serves those locations meant our resources had a larger impact.
Columbus: We are also using a screening and targeting approach similar to SSVF to ensure that people who absolutely require targeted prevention assistance to avoid shelter are prioritized. Our planning involved examining data from public assistance, racial and demographic data, and more, to identify where families are entering the system or last residing. We are now initiating screening and response/referral pilots with different sub-populations, including Veterans and youth, and respective partners to enable better resource targeting for higher risk households and a seamless handoff between partners. We are also examining ways to incorporate predictive targeting to identify more vulnerable and at-risk families based on specific characteristics.
Los Angeles: We based our targeting efforts on the SSVF Targeting Tool, which uses predictive factors to assist in appropriate targeting for those that are most likely to become homeless. To ensure alignment with Los Angeles County’s geography and priorities, data was used to ensure the tool focused on specific factors unique to LA, such as older adults, those in rent stabilized units, and those who have interacted with the criminal justice or foster care systems.
USICH: What strategies do you use to consider race and gender in this work?
Montgomery: We conducted a racial equity evaluation in the past year, which showed that homelessness is disproportional impacting African Americans in our community. Specifically, Black children under the age of 17, who represent 23% of the homeless population, and also Black, young, mostly female adults between the ages of 24-35. Our eviction prevention work has shown that the majority of tenants facing eviction in the pilot courtroom are young black females. If brought to scale, the program could be a means of preventing homelessness among those most likely to experience it.
Columbus: We are participants in the SPARC Initiative. We know that of the individuals experiencing homelessness captured in HMIS, 65% are Black, yet Black people only consist of 22% of our population in Columbus/Franklin County and only 39% of people experiencing deep poverty. We use our data to drive investment and targeted services, especially for Black women and other structurally disadvantaged populations.
Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Homeless Services released a report on black people experiencing homelessness that outlines 67 strategies on how to best address the disparities represented within our system, many of these focus on upstream initiatives to make sure that people of color and other disenfranchised populations are not falling into homelessness.
USICH: What advice do you have for communities interested in doing this work?
Montgomery: For communities who are doing this work for the first time, you need to understand racial and gender inequities before developing an eviction prevention framework. If data is showing a specific population is experiencing homelessness at disproportionate rates, prevention work should be focused on that population as a key way to mitigate structural inequities.
Columbus: The community should lead eviction prevention work, not the homelessness system. It is essential to have a common framework as well as remember that eviction prevention does not equate to homelessness prevention.
Los Angeles: We want to be clear that there is a difference between what homeless prevention is and what eviction prevention is. It is important that each community understand the unique nature of each intervention.