There is no doubt about it, and no need to sugar coat it: Transitioning 5,600 families off of HomeBASE rental assistance is going to be a challenge. FY14 is going to be messy and demanding. Managing the transitions will be hard work for the providers and administrating agencies. And it will be confusing to understand the complicated policies, never mind how the options play out for each individual family. But more than anything, it will be scary and emotionally taxing on families who were sold on a three year program. The premature termination of the program is difficult for even a policy wonk to understand, but how do we explain it to a family, to children?
The answer? As clearly and as many times as needed. Staff should explain what they know, and what they don’t know. They should explain where the decisions are coming from and that is confusing for them too. Staff and families must work together to find answers and explore options. Hopefully this information, which is based on HFF’s interpretations and is not official guidance, will be helpful:
- Families exiting HomeBASE should have a “homelessness priority” for housing programs. Most public housing is funded through HUD so this is hard to enforce. Contact DHCD (617 573-1123) with questions or issues relative to housing priorities
- Some MRVP’s will be prioritized for HomeBASE families with disabilities. Staff should begin developing a list of the numbers of families and when their rental assistance expires. Also note which of those families need accessible units and/or have extremely complicated situations
Flexible Cash Assistance:
- Families whose rental assistance is expiring are eligible for Household Assistance, RAFT and potentially additional funding through the Stabilization Fund. Guidance regarding access has not been issued by DHCD yet. But- consider how this resource may be used for different scenarios: as a step down for working families or those with higher incomes/lower rents; for relocation costs; as a subsidy until permanent housing can be secured. The intent is to transition families off the program and not to replace the rental assistance, so some long term planning should be considered with this option.
- DHCD has developed protocols to avoid families having to return to the local offices to apply for shelter. This will make the process easier and less traumatic on families, put less pressure on the already overburdened offices….and put a lot on the plates of shelter providers (and HB administrators)
- DHCD will be sending shelters/administrators a spreadsheet each month with the names of families whose rental assistance will be expiring in the month ahead. After working with and assessing a family’s situation and options, the shelter will note which families will need to re-enter the shelter system. This information, along with verification forms, will be submitted to the Central DHCD office. Placement and any needed transportation will be arranged from Central Office. Providers will have to verify that a family made a good faith effort to comply with their stabilization plans (which seems ironic since the Commonwealth did not make a good faith effort to meet the program promises, but I digress…and simultaneously acknowledge the efforts made to minimize the impact of that decision)
- The key to making this work is truly the relationship between the stabilization worker and the family. If families do not know who their stabilization workers are, they can call 617-572-1123. If there are strained relationships, programs and families must make efforts to work together and/or problem solve and try to understand each other’s challenges.
Learning and moving the system ahead:
When HomeBASE was rolled out, the then-leadership at DHCD explained that the BASE stood for Building Alternatives to Shelter. I never heard what the E stood for, and passive aggressively always wrote HomeBASe as a result. We joked that the E stood for Experiment. One provider thought it implied, “eeeeeeeeeee,” an exclamation of fear and nervousness. But I later heard a HomeBASE administrator call it Building Alternatives to Shelter Entry. Logical….but I am still going with “Experiment”
It has been and continues to be, an experiment that provided two years of housing for over 5,000 families. The experiment forced the regional housing agencies and shelters to work together in new ways. The experiment tarnished the short term subsidy concept, tested stabilization programs, and taught lessons that many claimed to know already.
The purpose of experiments is to learn; so let’s do that. Please use the comment box below to share questions and ideas. Send your ideas, tools, success stories, and gripes to us. Share data and fact sheets (obvi protecting confidentiality- but what is your program collecting?)
This is hard, but no provider is alone. Families, you are not alone. We are all in this together.