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In early June, 2023, HUD issued Notice PIH 2023-13, “Guidance on housing individuals and families experiencing homelessness through the Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher Programs.”  The agency estimates that there are nearly 600,000 Americans experiencing homelessness.

To make it easier for such individuals — as well as those who may be on the cusp of homelessness — to find safe, stable, and affordable housing, HUD offers several suggestions to Public Housing Authorities (PHAs).

At the same time, conservative politicians and think tanks have started to campaign against the United States “Housing First” policy that has guided the federal approach to homelessness for more than 20 years and became a cornerstone of housing policy under President George W. Bush. On June 20, the New York Times reported that these politicians and their supporters want to shift federal funding toward groups like rescue missions that enforce pertaining to employment and sobriety rather than continue funding programs that operate under the principles of Housing First.

Some call it a difference of agreement about policy where some want to impede assistance in the name of verification to prevent fraud, and others say that housing people without preconditions saves lives by getting them off the streets.

Overview of HUD Notice PIH 2023-13

The notice revises the definition of homelessness for the purpose of reporting in the Inventory Management System/Public Housing Information Center (IMS/PIC) and outlines new guidance on how PHAs and Continuums of Care (CoCs) can share data derived from IMS/PIC. It also provides new guidance on, waiting list management and preferences, screening policies regarding criminal activity, substance use, and rental history as well as program termination and eviction policies and information about pairing project-based vouchers with CoC Supportive Services to create Permanent Supportive Housing.

New Definitions of Homelessness

HUD has identified four categories of homelessness.

  • Individuals or families who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.
  • Individuals or families who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence.
  • Unaccompanied youth under 25 years of age, or families with children and youth, who do not otherwise qualify as homeless under this definition.
  • Any individual or family who Is fleeing, or is trying to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member, including a child. Waiting list management
HUD makes several suggestions, including:
  • Simplify the application process for Public Housing or Housing Choice Vouchers.
  • Engage with partner organizations to help homeless households gather necessary information and documents.
  • Strengthen the process for contacting applicants on their waiting lists.
  • Implement liberal reinstatement policies when applicants are removed from the waiting list because of non-responsiveness.
  • Establish flexible intake and briefing schedules.
  • Establish nondiscriminatory preferences in admissions policies.
  • Establish admissions preferences for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking.
  • Revise criminal record and substance use policies to ensure that they are not overly restrictive and that they do not discriminate in violation of the Fair Housing Act or other civil rights authorities. Implement flexible policies for rental history for those individuals and families without a consistent or steady rental history.

Regarding criminal history

HUD proposes that PHAs:

  • Conduct an individualized assessment of each applicant’s case that considers relevant mitigating information instead of automatically denying them based on conviction history.
  • End policies that deny assistance to all individuals with past evictions for any type of criminal activity.
  • Drop policies that deny assistance to all individuals on probation or parole.
  • Consider whether the household member is participating in or has successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program or has otherwise been rehabilitated successfully.

The Times notes that Housing First calls for subsidized apartments while supporting, but not mandating, the use of services like psychiatric treatment; the conservative opposition insists on mandating treatment before housing. In this notice, HUD is following two-plus decades of bipartisan federal policy to simplify and streamline access to housing for the homeless. If and when these approaches collide, something will have to give. Ann Oliva, chief executive of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, told the Times the outcome she fears: “The attack on Housing First is the most worrisome thing I’ve seen in my 30 years in this field,” she said. “When people have a safe and stable place to live, they can address other things in their lives. If critics succeed in defunding these successful programs, we’re going to see a lot more deaths on the street.”

Joe Miksch is the Public Relations and Marketing Manager for US Housing Consultants.