Public Housing Authorities and Continuums of Care: Establishing and Maintaining Powerful Teams

Although they have long been assisting families and individuals experiencing homelessness, more and more public housing authorities (PHAs) are emerging as heroes in the fight to end homelessness –making housing those experiencing homelessness a formal focus of their efforts, often overcoming regulatory hurdles and limited resources. In many communities from Houston to Asheville, contributions from PHAs are helping to reduce the number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Given the scale of PHA resources, even smaller and incremental contributions of vouchers and housing units by PHAs, especially when combined with the resources of Continuums of Care (CoCs), can have a big impact on homelessness.

While some PHAs already have strong partnerships with local CoCs, others are just beginning. HUD and USICH have long promoted the idea that strong CoC and PHA relationships are critical to our efforts to end homelessness across populations. In an effort to assist communities in building these relationships, HUD, in concert with USICH, recently produced a set of two documents. The first, CoC and PHA Collaboration: Strategies for CoCs to Start the Partnership Conversation provides some preliminary strategies and tips for starting or improving the conversation between CoCs and their local PHAs. The second, entitled, The Business Case for Partnering with Public Housing Agencies to Serve People Who Are Homeless is designed to help PHAs and CoCs understand the ways their partnerships can benefit a community’s overall efforts to end homelessness from a business perspective. 

These new resources, and others cited below, note that successful CoC/PHA relationships can help both entities fill gaps in their service provision and strengthen the services that each already provides. For example, homeless service providers can assist PHA applicants with paperwork and locating housing if a Section 8 voucher is provided. Service providers can also attend meetings with applicants and PHAs, help with tenant-landlord relationships, provide supportive services to help maintain tenancies, and assist PHAs with unit inspections. Often, it can be difficult for PHAs to locate homeless applicants when their names come up on waiting lists. This is something a strong relationship with a CoC and/or service provider can also help alleviate.

PHAs can also contribute to CoCs with very little additional effort or resources. PHAs can assist CoC partners by identifying applicants for rental assistance who are homeless or are at-risk of becoming homeless. PHAs can also collaborate with CoC partners to identify homeless households that might qualify for a wait-list preference. Alternatively, the PHA may rely on the CoC’s established coordinated entry system for all or a targeted portion of its referrals (like special purpose vouchers or permanent supportive housing programs administered by the PHA).

In addition to discussing the benefits of a successful PHA and CoC collaboration, HUD’s new resources provide useful information for CoCs about starting the conversation with PHAs about collaborating on efforts to end homelessness. Information about general PHA structure, understanding PHA plans, creating a “PHA ask” and general “PHA terminology”  is useful for CoCs reaching out to their PHA for the first time or for those that already have some form of an established relationship.

The materials that HUD released on Monday build upon several other helpful resources that USICH and others have already produced.  Some of these are listed below:

PHA Guidebook to Ending Homelessness – USICH

PHA Toolkit – Corporation for Supportive Housing

Resources for CoC and PHA Collaboration to End Homelessness (Series of webinars and other information) - HUD

Housing Authorities: Essential Partners in Ending Homelessness – Council of Large Public Housing Authorities

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Kiley Gosselin is a Management and Program Analyst at USICH, where she helps coordinate Federal policy efforts to prevent and end family and youth homelessness.

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