New HUD Rules Change How Boise Houses the Homeless 

“We’ve lost our funding. It’s tough to run that property”

The triplex is unassuming, but the building, located in Boise's West End neighborhood, is the epicenter of a shift in how Boise addresses the problem of housing the homeless. It's called Threshold Crossing, a transitional supportive housing complex where people making steps out of homelessness can live for up to two years while surrounded by a slate of social services.

However, changes to Housing and Urban Development grant funding rules mean the facility has had to look elsewhere for approximately $25,000 to cover operating costs.

"We've lost our funding. It's tough to run that property," said Michael Shepard, acquisition rehabilitation and asset management manager for NeighborWorks Boise, the nonprofit that owns Threshold Crossing. "We could sell it, but we want to continue this program. We actually want to get back into serving people who make less than 30 percent of area median income. That's the at-risk population here."

The Boise City Council on Aug. 9 approved a one-year appropriation of $25,000 to NeighborWorks to continue the program from a separate source of HUD funds, but this marks the first time HUD funds have dried up for a Boise homelessness housing program because of a new grant funding mechanism geared toward permanent, rather than temporary, housing for people and families at risk of homelessness.

In order to survive, projects like Threshold Crossing will have to make their own transition.

NeighborWorks has for decades provided a variety of housing services to low-income individuals and families. The housing stock includes 278 housing units, four multi-family apartment complexes, two triplexes—including Threshold Crossing—and a single-family residence.

At Threshold Crossing, rents are based on tenants' incomes, which vary month to month. For instance, in June, total rent paid for all three units was $95, or a little more than $30 per unit for the month. However, the average rent paid so far in 2016 has been $279 per unit per month.

Despite the ups and downs of rental payments, NeighborWorks has a more firm annual operating cost for the triplex, which ranges from $25,000-$30,000. When its historic HUD funding source vanished, it turned to the city for help.

"What you're seeing on [Boise City] Council is our attempt to stabilize transition, both for the nonprofit partner and the occupants of the housing," said Boise City Housing and Community Development Manager AnaMarie Guiles.

According to the ongoing Family Options Study, conducted by HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research, there is "striking evidence of the power of offering a permanent subsidy to a homeless family."

With permanent supportive housing cheaper than transitional housing, communities are better able to increase their supportive housing stock, the study concluded, enabling them to get more families off the streets.

Based on the study's findings, HUD made changes to funding eligibility requirements for transitional housing programs. When the agency announced its annual Continuum of Care grants earlier this year, totalling approximately $355 million, many communities were left with the tab for homelessness programs. In New York City, 12 transitional housing shelters—amounting to about 500 beds—saw their funding cut, according to Politico. In New York, as in Boise, HUD worked with communities and programs to "wind them down" or help them adapt.

"What HUD is doing is saying, 'For those projects that received money from us years ago, we don't want to prioritize continuing support for you, so we'll consider reducing our restrictive covenants on those funds,'" Guiles said.

The city's role in combating homelessness goes back decades, but a pivotal moment came in December 2015, when Boise police dismantled Cooper Court—the tent city that cropped up near Interfaith Sanctuary. In January 2016, a Boise State University study revealed the community cost of 100 chronically homeless men and women is more than $5.3 million per year. That included $3.8 million in emergency medical services and $750,000 in costs at the Ada County Jail.

The city announced in February it would pursue a two-pronged housing-first model to combat homelessness in the Treasure Valley—a strategy that, according to the Boise State study, could reduce the community cost of chronic homelessness to approximately $1.6 million each year. That approach will include building a single-site housing complex and 15 units of scattered-site permanent supportive housing.

"The best alternative is to get someone in a safe, clean place to live first," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter at the time. "Only then can you get to the root causes of homelessness."

On the front lines of tackling those causes is Dalynn Kuster, of El-Ada Community Partnerships, the social services organization that partners with NeighborWorks at Threshold Crossing. While she couldn't speak to the specific services provided to current tenants, she said El-Ada connects people living in supportive housing with everything from substance abuse counseling and low-cost or pro bono legal help to home economics and getting along with neighbors.

"We're a haul-water, chop-wood sort of social work," she said.

On a day-to-day basis, HUD's shifting funding priorities aren't likely to have a major impact on how services are delivered but, in the long-term, the effects of pivoting to permanent supportive housing remain to be seen.

"If housing-first is implemented quickly, and Boise gets all of their ducks in a row with it, if it rolls out the way it's supposed to, I think it's going to be transformational in our community," Kuster said. "If it doesn't, if there are hiccups in the process, it will be more detrimental."

In the print version of this story, NeighborWorks Boise's housing stock is said to be 283 units. The correct number of housing units is 278.


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