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Flat Funding for Homeless Youth in President’s Budget: Where Do We Go From Here?

February 21, 2012

By Amy Lemley

Last week, President Obama released his proposed budget for FY 2013 and funding for youth homelessness was flat. Even in an election year, when President Obama defied Republican calls for deficit reduction by including over $350 billion in new spending, not a dollar of additional funding was proposed for homeless youth.

My take-away from this is that instead of waiting for an expansion of funding targeted to homeless youth, it’s time to find creative ways to make existing resources serve homeless youth. Establishing a local waitlist preference for homeless or former foster youth at local public housing authorities is one way to do that.

A local waitlist preference is a policy of a public housing authority where it sets aside Housing Choice Vouchers (popularly known as Section 8) for specific groups of individuals, such as people with disabilities or veterans.  Homeless or former foster youth could be such a group.

And it’s been done before. I recently attended the annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Los Angeles.  A fellow panelist, Brenda Fonseca, Deputy Director of Housing Programs for the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority explained how she and her colleagues used a local waitlist preference to help former foster youth.

Their first step was to clarify with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that a local waitlist preference for former foster youth was allowed. She soon learned it was, and from there, she took the idea to the board of directors that governs Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority, which approved it.

It was that simple. With those few steps, former foster youth were now a priority on the local waitlist and up to 40 Housing Choice Vouchers were set aside to meet their housing needs.

Statewide, California has 100 public housing authorities that administer over 200,000 Housing Choice Vouchers. If even half of California’s housing authorities set aside just 50 vouchers each, we would have almost 2,000 units of permanent, affordable housing for otherwise homeless youth.

One great thing about Housing Choice Vouchers is that they do not have a time limit. People are able to live in affordable housing as long as they qualify for it, without the fear that they will have to move out before they have become economically stable. It’s hard for those of us who do not live in transitional housing to understand the stress that comes with knowing that there is a point where you must move. Just when a person is learning where to access what they need in their community, such as childcare, public transportation and other services, it’s time to move. Permanent housing is particularly important for young parents, who require a longer period of time to stabilize. Housing Choice Vouchers offer this stability.

To give you a sense of the size of the HUD Housing Choice Voucher program, President Obama has requested $19 BILLION in FY 2013 for the program, up from $18.9 billion in FY 2012. Yes, that’s billion with a “B.” To put the sheer size of this program in perspective, that’s 160 times more than the federal government currently spends on programs for runaway and homeless youth. As advocates for youth, we could spend the next 200 years trying to increase the level of funding for federal runaway and homeless youth programs and come nowhere near this level of funding. Or, we could learn more about how to access these valuable resources that already exist in our communities.

Let’s get started! For a list of California public housing authorizes, follow this LINK.

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