Integrating Housing and Human Service Resources

Article excerpt

Finding a home for assisted housing in the new era of human services.

Just when the welfare system may be facing its most serious challenges, housing assistance is being nearly shoved off the public policy map, at least in terms of new or incremental assistance. In addition, in nearly all the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, housing is rarely mentioned as an issue. Despite these developments, there is an important link between the availability of housing and the success of welfare reform. If housing is available in areas with high job growth rates, for example, recipients will find it that much easier to leave welfare for work.

With the demise of welfare as we once knew it and sweeping changes across human service programs, what should be the new role of housing assistance? This article argues that the primary role of housing assistance in welfare reform should be to help sustain employment and improve the welfare of children. For housing assistance to take on such a role in the new era of human services, major changes in current housing policy and practice are necessary.

Housing Programs

Leaving aside special-needs housing (housing for homeless, disabled, and elderly people) and rural housing, there are three principal programs that will provide nearly all incremental housing assistance in the foreseeable future: the HOME Investment Partnership Block Grant Program, the low-income housing tax credit, and, to a lesser extent, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). Public housing and Section 8-assisted housing now constitute nearly all of the government-subsidized housing for welfare recipients. In the future, however, demolition, replacement, and turnovers (housing provided to new households through turnovers or vacancies) will form the bulk of activity in these housing programs. The need to keep federal subsidies to a minimum and the goal of providing mixed-income housing will further limit this housing's availability for assistance to welfare recipients. There is, however, a large amount of this housing in comparison with other types of subsidized housing, and this alone will continue to make it a potentially important resource in welfare reform.

The HOME Program, authorized under the 1990 Housing Act, provides federal grants to state and local governments to fund tenant-based rental assistance or acquisition, rehabilitation, and, in certain circumstances, construction of housing for rent and for sale. The CDBG Program allocates funds by formula to large cities, counties, and states for a wide variety of activities, ranging from housing to economic development, infrastructure, and public services. Generally, to be eligible, an activity must benefit a majority of households who have incomes less than 80 percent of the area median income. Under the low-income housing tax credit program, states allocate federal tax credits as an incentive to the private sector to develop rental housing; the credits awarded may be taken annually for 10 years by investors in qualified low-income housing to offset federal taxes otherwise owed on their income.

These programs, managed by state and local governments, have significant flexibility. Housing and welfare, however, may have two of the most incompatible delivery systems created by the federal government. States play the key role in managing welfare-related resources: Most states administer relatively centralized welfare systems, whereas some make heavy use of local governments (normally counties). The housing delivery system, on the other hand, is much more fragmented and locally focused. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development directly funds about 3,400 local public housing agencies, as well as providing grants to nearly 900 localities (mostly cities) for CDBG and nearly 400 localities (mostly cities) for the HOME Program. State housing agencies, which are generally semi-independent from the state governments, manage the tax credit program. …