Rural HEARTH Program Proposed Rule Out for Comment

Regulations proposed on March 27 would implement the new Rural Housing Stability Assistance Program (RHSP). The program, authorized by the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Re-Housing Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009, is designed to provide grants to rural counties to re-house people who are homeless, improve the housing situation of those in “worst housing situations,” stabilize the housing of those in immediate risk of homelessness, and improve the ability of the lowest income people to afford housing. RHSP is Section 491 of the McKinney-Vento Act and replaces the Rural Homeless Grant program which, although authorized, was never implemented. According to the proposed rule, a rural county may compete for an RHSP grant or seek a Continuum of Care grant, but it may not both seek both. Rural counties may designate a nonprofit or local government to apply, but there may only be one applicant and one grant per rural county.Section 491 of the McKinney-Vento Act requires that at least 50% of RHSP funds be set aside for counties with populations of less than 10,000 people. Within this set-aside, priority must be given to counties with populations of less than 5,000 people. The act also requires HUD to give priority to recipients serving communities not currently receiving significant funding under the McKinney-Vento Act. HUD’s proposed regulations have seven selection criteria, including the extent to which potential program beneficiaries participate in assessing the need for the grant, and the extent to which a grant would address “worst housing situations,” defined as housing with serious health and safety defects, and at least one major system that has failed or is failing. The proposed regulation provides details about 16 categories of eligible uses of RHSP funds, including:

  • Up to 12 months of rent, mortgage, or utility assistance to prevent eviction, foreclosure, or loss of utilities after two months of nonpayment.
  • Security and utility deposits, first month’s rent, and moving services if a household is moving outside of the county and has proof of new employment or acceptance at an educational institution, or will be reunited with family members.
  • Acquisition, rehabilitation, new construction, or leasing of permanent or transitional housing or property providing supportive services.
  • Rental assistance, either short-term (less than three months), medium-term (from three to 24 months), or long-term (longer than 24 months).
  • Rehabilitating the houses of homeowners with incomes below 50% of the area median income if their homes have serious health and safety defects along with at least one major system that has failed or is failing, such as roofing, plumbing, and heating.

Other notable provisions include:

  • Property bought, rehabilitated, or newly constructed must operate as housing or provide supportive services for at least 15 years, and must have a plan for continued operation after that period.
  • There is a maintenance of effort provision prohibiting the use of RHSP to replace state or local funds previously used or designated for use to assist homeless people or those at risk of homelessness.
  • Assisted households may remain in transitional housing longer than 24 months if permanent housing cannot be located or if more time is needed to prepare for independent living.

The proposed rule would also revise the existing definition of “chronically homeless” established in an interim rule on December 5, 2011. That rule interpreted “occasion of homelessness” to mean a period of at least 15 days. After issuing the Continuum of Care program interim rule, HUD received public comments and then met with experts and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to refine the meaning of “occasion of homelessness.”As a result, HUD is now proposing to revise the section of the definition of “chronically homeless” relating to “occasions of homelessness” by eliminating the 15-day reference and substituting text as follows:

Has been homeless and living or residing in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven, or in an emergency shelter continuously for at least one year or on at least four separate occasions in the last three years, where the cumulative total of the four occasions is at least one year. Stays in institutions of 90 days or less will not constitute a break in homelessness, but rather such stays are included in the cumulative total.

Comments are due May 28.Click here for the proposed rule (PDF).