Local, state and federal elected officials are more likely to focus on ending homelessness if they understand how it affects people and programs in the area they represent. The more they hear from constituents about how programs are preventing and ending homelessness, the more likely they are to act. It's up to us to convince our elected officials to take action!
The cornerstone of successful advocacy is building relationships with policymakers, such as calling, writing, and meeting with them, or inviting them to visit a local homeless program or shelter.
This section describes some of the ongoing efforts to improve local, state, and federal policy affecting people experiencing homelessness and how you can get involved.
Current Issues of Local Interest
Current Issues of National Interest
Working in collaboration with the National Alliance to End Homelessness
, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
, and the National Coalition for the Homeless
, we work to advance core policy priorities that guide our advocacy efforts. On a national level they are as follows:
- Each year, Congress passes a budget allocating funds to federal programs, including housing and homelessness programs. Working with our national partners, we monitor the funding levels for programs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other federal agencies that address homelessness. Click here for more information.
- On May 20, 2009, President Obama signed into law the HEARTH Act, which made sweeping changes to HUD’s homeless programs. The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act will provide communities with new resources and better tools to prevent and end homelessness. The legislation:
- Increases priority on homeless families with children.
- Significantly increases resources to prevent homelessness.
- Continues to provide incentives for developing permanent supportive housing.
- Grants rural communities greater flexibility with which to use their federal funding.
- The Obama Administration has committed to ending homelessness among veterans in five years. To meet the
Administration's goal, Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki has outlined a plan to end
veteran homelessness. In order to make this goal a reality, Congress must enact legislation to:
- Create a homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing program within the Department
of Veterans Affairs (VA);
- Continue to expand the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing
program (HUD-VASH) by providing $75 million for HUD-VASH vouchers in FY 2012 to house
an estimated 11,538 additional homeless veterans; and
- Ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing for veterans with low incomes; and
- Enhance and bring to scale existing VA homelessness programs.
- Section 8 tenant-based rental assistance (the “Housing Choice Voucher program”) is the primary program assisting extremely low income people with the cost of housing. The Section 8 Voucher Reform Act would improve the program. The Section 8 program provides rental assistance for low-income households, with 75 percent of funds being targeted at households living at or below 30 percent of area median income (AMI). Section 8 tenant-based assistance follows participating individuals and families, regardless of whether or not
they move over the course of their subsidy. Participants in the program pay 30 percent of their incomes toward housing costs, with the program paying the remainder up to a set maximum amount. These vouchers are the leading form of low-income housing assistance, serving over two million households, including families with children, elderly households, and people with disabilities.
- The Section 8 Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA) would reform the Housing Choice Voucher program for the first time in ten years and will help the program continue to provide affordable housing to millions of households, while using federal resources more efficiently. The legislation would streamline the Housing Choice Voucher program and permanently address a formula problem that led to the loss of 150,000 vouchers over three years. Under SEVRA, funding for vouchers would be based on each public housing agency’s actual spending for vouchers in the previous year. Any public housing agencies with large unspent balances would have some of their reserves reallocated to agencies that could immediately assist families on their waiting lists. If a public housing agency faced a shortfall, it could temporarily borrow from the following year’s allotment. The bill would also reform the financing of “portability” moves, so that families could more easily exercise their right to move with a voucher and agencies could save burdensome paperwork and avoid cash-flow problems.
SEVRA also simplifies the rules governing the calculation of rents in public housing, project-based Section 8 properties, and the voucher program. Tenants would still be required to pay 30 percent of their income toward housing costs, but the bill would streamline the process for determining tenants’ incomes and deductions. Income of families on fixed income would only have to be re-certified every 3 years. SEVRA also includes some modest changes in housing inspection rules designed to ease burdens on agencies and encourage landlords to offer apartments to voucher holders.
- In 2008, the National Housing Trust Fund was established as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act. The National Housing Trust Fund would use funds dedicated annually from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and would not require annual appropriations like other federal housing programs. However, because of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's financial difficulties, payments to the Trust Fund have been suspended and advocates are seeking alternative funding sources. Advocates of the Trust Fund aim to use Trust Fund resources to create 1.5 million units of affordable housing within ten years.
At least 90 percent of Trust Fund resources would be for rental housing, including the production, preservation, and rehabilitation of rental housing, or for operating costs. At least 75 percent of the amount used for rental housing would have to be for extremely low income households (30 percent or less of area median income) or families with incomes at or below the poverty line. Up to 25 percent could be used for the benefit of very low-income families (30 to 50 percent of area median income). Up to 10 percent of Trust Fund resources could be used for homeownership activities for first-time homebuyers. Funding would be distributed to states through a formula that HUD has established.
The $1 billion needed to capitalize the Housing Trust Fund would be mandatory spending, which means that Congress would have to pass legislation separate from the regular appropriations process. Multiple attempts in 2010 to fund the Trust Fund failed.