Members of an advisory board voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend that Allegheny County stop seeking federal funding for transitional housing programs in order to make its grant bids more competitive, and instead focus on permanent housing and "rapid re-housing" services.
But if it's adopted by the county Department of Human Services, the policy change would dry up annual funding streams relied upon by local transitional housing facilities like HEARTH, a Shaler organization that houses survivors of domestic violence.
Human Services Director Marc Cherna said a Department of Housing and Urban Development consultant came to Pittsburgh recently to advise DHS leaders to remove transitional housing programs from the county's annual bid for federal housing funding.
“What the consultant said, basically, was, ‘You should be looking at getting rid of your transitional housing and reallocating that money to permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing,'” Cherna said.
Cherna said the change is necessary to stay competitive in the HUD grant process.
“If we don’t change with the HUD priorities and we lose the funding, then we lose those resources to the county," Cherna said. "So, that’s the issue. This has nothing to do with the county deciding this. This is HUD’s priority that we are trying to meet so we can be competitive.”
But HEARTH executive director Judy Eakin said HUD actually recommends transitional housing for special populations, like the domestic violence victims her agency serves.
“We have cameras, security fobs, all types of things to keep them safe, away from their abusers," Eakin said. "When you look at rapid re-housing and permanent housing, it is scattered-site all through the community, and there isn’t that type of support, safety, counseling, case management.”
Eakin said youth and those fighting addictions can also benefit from transitional housing.
“We need to look at the most vulnerable populations and be sure that we’re providing them options of housing support and all the services they need the entire way through our continuum, and not just allocate all our money in one direction,” Eakin said.
The recommendation made Tuesday by the Homelessness Advisory Board suggests excluding all transitional housing programs from Allegheny County's annual HUD grant application. HEARTH representatives said their organization would lose $500,000, about half of its annual budget, and noted that about 20 other agencies in the county could lose federal grant funding, as well.