House Subcommittee Discusses Ways to Improve HUD-VASH

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity on January 14 held a hearing about “Making HUD-VASH Work for all Veteran Communities” on how to make the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program more effective. The hearing included two panels of witnesses: the first consisted of federal government officials from HUD and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the second included advocates and service providers.

HUD-VASH, which combines a HUD housing voucher with wrap-around supportive services from the VA, has successfully reduced the number of homeless veterans since it began in 2008. Both witnesses and committee members pointed out, however, that more than 14,000 HUD-VASH vouchers are currently unused – despite at least 37,000 veterans experiencing homelessness across the country. Keith Harris, national director of clinical operations at the VA Homeless Program Office, said that increasing the number of case managers would help increase utilization of vouchers, and he committed to filling vacancies at the agency. Chairman of the Board of the National American Indian Housing Council Gary Cooper later identified the lack of culturally competent case managers as a particular barrier for Native veterans.

Several advocates, including Mr. Cooper and National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Kathryn Monet, also identified the complete lack of affordable and available homes, particularly in rural, remote, or high-cost areas, as a barrier for veterans trying to use HUD-VASH vouchers. Ms. Monet advocated for new funds for project-based rental assistance in areas facing an absolute shortage of affordable homes. Additionally, Subcommittee Chair Mike Levin (D-CA) encouraged HUD to improve the method of calculating fair market rents (FMRs) to more accurately reflect market rents and allow easier use of vouchers.

Representatives and witnesses also discussed the importance of HUD-VASH as a “Housing First” model. Representative Andy Barr (R-KY) stated that Housing First has been “superimposed” on to the HUD-VASH program. Assistant Secretary of Public and Indian Housing Hunter Kurtz said the program does not have a Housing First requirement, which Mr. Harris of the VA quickly corrected, stating that the program does follow that approach by providing housing without conditions and then services. Later, Ms. Monet and Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, emphasized the effectiveness of the Housing First approach. The Trump Administration has recently tried to roll back the emphasis on the Housing First model, despite decades of research proving its effectiveness.

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