Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am honored that you have invited the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to testify in support of the reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, known as LAHSA, is a joint powers authority of the City and County of Los Angeles. Founded in 1993, LAHSA is governed by a ten-member commission. Each of the five Los Angeles County Supervisors appoints one commissioner and the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles appoints the other five commissioners.
LAHSA has been the lead coordinator for the second largest Continuum of Care system in the country since the inception of HUD's Continuum of Care funding process. Prior to the establishment of LAHSA, there had been no local coordination of funding for homeless housing and services. The Continuum of Care requirements enabled LAHSA to vigorously pursue a regional approach to addressing homelessness. This is critical to successfully address homelessness, especially given the geography covered by our continuum - four thousand square miles - and the extreme differences in infrastructure and needs across our County. Moreover, Los Angeles County encompasses 88 jurisdictions, including 34 entitlement cities.(1) McKinney-Vento funding has made it possible for LAHSA to provide critically needed leadership in integrating services across jurisdictional boundaries and between homeless and mainstream service delivery systems.
We are proud of the collaborative efforts stimulated by the Continuum of Care and support reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to codify the Continuum of Care and a competitive process for obtaining funding for homeless programs.
Nature and Extent of Homelessness in Los Angeles County
The most commonly used estimate indicates that there are 84,000 men, women and children homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County.(2) A more recent County survey found that 375,000 adults experienced homelessness in the previous five years. While many of these persons doubled up in someone else's home, up to half resorted to staying on the streets or in shelters.(3)
Since 1995, the Los Angeles Continuum of Care has received over $325 million through the McKinney-Vento Act. In the last year alone, McKinney-Vento funded programs that served more than 63,000 homeless men, women and children. These programs include outreach services, supportive services, emergency shelter and transitional and permanent housing. Among them are model programs in the area of specialized employment services for homeless persons, the relocation of families living in shelters to permanent housing, and permanent supportive housing lauded for addressing chronic homelessness and its contribution to neighborhood improvement. McKinney-Vento funding has enabled localities to leverage millions of dollars in private funding and investment while also contributing to the aesthetic improvement of many low-income neighborhoods.
Notwithstanding this significant level of federal support for homeless persons, we face very real challenges to ending homelessness. Over the last ten years, Los Angeles County has experienced increasing poverty and diminishing housing resources for our lowest income residents. Los Angeles County is reporting that despite a 3 ½% drop in unemployment since 1990, poverty in the County has increased by 46%. These conditions have fueled greater demand for homeless services even before the local economy began to experience general economic hardship since last fall.
Specifically within the City of Los Angeles, there is a 3.5% rental housing vacancy rate(4), among the lowest rate in the last four years. Not only does this mean a tighter housing market for low-income renters, but those who are fortunate enough to receive a Section 8 voucher are finding fewer and fewer landlords willing to rent to them. The City's Housing Authority reports that only 41% of households issued vouchers are able to use them.(5) On a brighter note, the Los Angeles City Council last week adopted the Mayor's plan for establishing a $100 million Housing Trust Fund. And this November, voters in the State of California will have the opportunity to approve over $2 billion in bond financing for affordable housing.
We are looking forward to unprecedented funding opportunities at the local, state and federal level to finally end homelessness. In reauthorizing the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, you have the opportunity to harness this momentum and provide the federal leadership necessary to end homelessness.
Recommendations for Reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
In looking toward reauthorization, our experience tells us that the collaborative, community-based process generated by the Continuum of Care works. Our system as a whole is better, more vigorous, and more integrated because of the incentives created by the Continuum of Care to engage in a broadly inclusive planning process and to identify the resources in mainstream systems that need to serve our homeless clients.
We have, however, outgrown the current McKinney-Vento Act and offer these recommendations:
§ Keep the program flexible. Every community has different circumstances that call for different approaches to addressing homelessness. The strength of the existing McKinney-Vento system is that it allows localities to determine how they can best use the funding to meet the needs of homeless individuals and families. In some communities, local governmental agencies are strong advocates for service delivery and understand how to work with their nonprofit partners to serve the homeless. In other areas, the nonprofit community is better positioned to lead that decision-making process. By allowing localities to decide who is best suited to lead the planning effort and apply for funding, we avoid the difficulties that often occur when disinterested entities are the appointed recipients for funding.
§ Ensure federal coordination of homeless programs by locating the Interagency Council on Homelessness in the White House Domestic Policy office. While nearly all of LAHSA's funding for homeless programs originates in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), many of the homeless housing and service agencies that we fund are also funded by other federal departments, including the Departments of Veterans' Affairs, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education. Coordination of funding and programs could be furthered by having a centralized presence in the White House to oversee a national plan to end homelessness.
§ Lift the cash match requirement for permanent housing. Developers in our system have reported that the 25% cash match requirement under the SHP permanent housing program has hampered efforts to use this program in the Los Angeles area. Although new sources of local funding are on the horizon, securing and documenting the cash match for this process is not always feasible. This in turn inhibits development of the permanent affordable housing we so desperately need to end homelessness.
§ Move the renewal of Shelter Plus Care and Supportive Housing Program Permanent Housing Contracts to the Housing Certificate Fund. By the time these programs are ready to renew, they have demonstrated their effectiveness and the tenants in the programs are no longer homeless. Therefore, we urge you to consider these renewing programs as "mainstream", thereby allowing renewals to be funded from a mainstream source.
§ Provide for Homeless Management Information Systems funding. Several years ago, Congress wisely directed HUD to embark on implementing computerized data collection. LAHSA has begun working on a countywide homeless management information system that would be used not only by McKinney-Vento-funded programs, but by agencies serving the homeless that do not receive federal funding. We have embraced this opportunity to establish a system that will help homeless persons access services, providers to track the work that they do, and allow localities to assess the effectiveness of their programs. However, this entails considerable costs that we cannot sustain with local funding. We look to you to ensure that the HMIS requirement will not be an unfunded mandate.
§ Retain the competitive process for homeless services funding. While administering an annual competition does consume significant local resources, the system is better for it. The current process is a catalyst that empowers us to work closely with agencies from the 31 entitlement cities within our Continuum of Care, as well as with the County-administered housing, health, and welfare systems. Therefore, LAHSA has historically opposed the block granting of federal homeless assistance funds.
I thank you for this opportunity to share the experiences of Los Angeles County and our suggestions for improving the existing legislation. I strongly support your efforts to reauthorize the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act so that we will have the critical resources and federal leadership necessary to end homelessness.
1. Three of those cities, Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach, submit their own Continuum of Care application, but have been coordinating their Homeless Management Information System planning with LAHSA.
2. The Number of Homeless People in Los Angeles City and County: July 1993 to June 1994. Shelter Partnership, Inc., Los Angeles. November 1995.
3. Cousineau, Michael R. and Brian Shimabakura, "The Five Year Prevalence of Homelessness in Los Angeles County: Findings from the L.A. County Health Survey," Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty Colloquia presentation, Los Angeles, January 20, 1999.
4. Citywide vacancy rate from January 1998 through January 2002 for multi-family, individually metered housing units. Los Angeles Housing Department/Policy and Planning Unit. http://www.lacity.org/lahd/vacchart.PDF.
5. "Housing Less Affordable as Rent-Wage Gap Widens," Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2001.
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