On July 29, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing examining the progress made in ending veterans’ homelessness and inquiring about additional efforts needed to finish the job. Witnesses stress that the shortage of affordable rental housing is the principal barrier to addressing veteran homelessness.
In opening remarks, Chair Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said, “Today we are here to talk about veterans’ homelessness in our country, which while it is improving in terms of lessening, it is still a great problem for many, many veterans. From 2010 to 2014, the number of homeless veterans has decreased by a third, but when that still ends up being 49,933 veterans, that is way too many.”
On the first panel, Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor to HUD Secretary Julián Castro thanked Congress for its strong investment in ending veteran homelessness and asked for a continued commitment to fill current services gaps. Ms. Ho said, “Specifically, we need the ability to more effectively serve Veterans not currently reached by HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) [vouchers]. [W]e will need the special purpose vouchers requested in the 2016 Budget to serve individuals who served in the Armed Forces but are not currently eligible for VA Medical Services due to time in service or discharge status requirements.”
Ms. Ho also raised the issue of the lack of affordable housing, which has prevented some veterans from being able to utilize their HUD-VASH vouchers. She also spoke of the critical role in ending veterans homelessness played by the HOME program. “Often time when you’re creating more supportive housing options, you’re trying to figure out how to weave together thirteen different funding streams and tax credits, and they all work on their own cycles. It’s one of the reasons we think that HOME is so important for the creation of more affordable housing,” she said. “As you know in the Senate [Appropriations Committee THUD spending bill] right now, there was a 93% cut to the HOME program. It’s the best engine that we have to create more affordable housing and it’s an incredibly flexible funding tool that local communities control so that they can use it to fill gaps when they’re trying to put together financing for supportive housing or for affordable housing.”
On the second panel, witnesses reiterated that the shortage of affordable rental housing acts a barrier for homeless veterans. Lisa Tepper Bates, Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness stated, “Our VA and HUD partners have worked hard to push down and reduce the time it takes to lease a housing unit for a veteran who has been approved for a HUD-VASH unit. However, we have an ongoing challenge with regard to the availability of rental properties.” Michael Blecker, Executive Director of Swords to Plowshares added that the lack of affordable rental units in San Francisco and other over heated rental markets posed problems for homeless veterans seeking housing.
More information about the hearing is at http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/ending-veteran-homelessness07292015