Housing Solutions for Families and Individuals Experiencing Homelessness
The Governor enacted the $93 million Coronavirus Emergency Economic Recovery Grants package on June 19, 2020. The State Legislature had appropriated $30 million to VHCB for grants to nonprofit housing developers, service organizations, and shelter facilities to provide housing and services for persons who are currently experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. On August 8, 2020, VHCB awarded more than $30 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) to 26 projects to develop new housing and improve shelters in 17 towns around the state. In early October, the balance of the funds were committed.
Due to public health considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic, since early in March, the State of Vermont had provided funding to house approximately 2,000 individuals experiencing homelessness, including more than 200 families with children, in motels and hotels. Many of these households had been staying in shelters or temporary housing and others were homeless. It is anticipated that the State’s ability to fund this temporary housing solution will end over the next several months.
The federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF funds) were targeted to cover capital expenses for two purposes:
1. To help secure and/or rehabilitate housing for 150-200 households in areas of highest need based on data from the Agency of Human Services and to areas with a lack of available housing. The top priority of the Agency of Human Services is to house families with children.
2. To assist existing shelters to make building modifications necessary to comply with CDC guidance related to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in congregate housing.
Under federal law, the CRF funds must be expended by the applicant by December 30, 2020. VHCB will consider projects where a majority of the units are on line by December 30 when there is an agreement in place on a funding plan for completion of the balance of units in short order.
New Housing Units
The funds are intended to support the creation of 150-200 new units of housing for households leaving temporary housing. This will require alliances that combine the development capacity of the non-profit housing network with homeless shelters and other service providers to create housing opportunities in four categories:
1) A housing development currently owned by a non-profit housing organization (or a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit partnership) with vacancies that can be set aside for homeless households if capital needs are addressed.
2) A development under construction that will create new units that can be set aside for homeless households and could be brought online more quickly but for a funding gap.
3) A new development that will house households experiencing homelessness “at scale,” i.e. converting an existing facility such as a motel, hotel, or other multi-family building.
5) A new general occupancy development with units set aside for households experiencing homelessness.
Occupancy of homes supported with CARES Act funding may change over time, from serving those experiencing homelessness to also offering general occupancy housing. Applicants will work with social service agencies to assist formerly homeless households to find permanent housing situations.
Despite efforts to develop new homes with permanent supportive services and to promote the Housing First model, emergency shelter providers attest that shelters will continue to be necessary for the next several years. A portion of the CARES Act funding will be used statewide to invest in shelters to allow them to meet CDC guidelines for congregate housing.
Upgrades could include ventilation systems, no-touch faucets and soap dispensers, auto-door openers, room dividers, interior reconfiguration, or an addition to expand shelter space to allow for social distancing. A replacement shelter may be proposed if it can be completed within the funding and timing constraints.
Critical considerations to determine whether your organization will sponsor a project with new units and/or shelter improvements:
1. The entire award of CRF funding must be expended by the applicant by December 30, 2020. Any costs incurred after December 30 are not reimbursable with CRF funding. VHCB has not identified a source of capital for any carryover expenses incurred in 2021 for projects not completed in 2020.
2. VHCB will be unable to pre-capitalize funding for a five-year reserve for resident services and rental assistance given the constraints imposed by CRF. VHCB will continue to explore opportunities for project support with AHS and VSHA. In the meantime, applicants should seek partnerships that may fill operating and service gaps.
Project Selection Criteria Thresholds:
- The project sponsor, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or a municipality, must demonstrate that the project is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (See CRF guidance here.)
- There must be a demonstrated plan and commitment for coordination/partnership between developer, Continuum of Care, local housing authority – if any, and social service providers who work with the target population to serve homeless households.
- The project must be located in an area of the state shown by data to have a large number of homeless households and a lack of available housing units.
- Experience and capacity of the project sponsor(s) to successfully complete project and demonstrate compliance with CARES Act requirements.
- Evidence of project readiness to proceed and achievable timeline, including site control, level of support from municipality, and capacity of related development partners.
- VHCB seeks to award funds to projects that will be completed by December 30 and they will be evaluated based on the relative amount of total development cost that will be incurred by December 30, 2020.
- Of the proposed number of units, percentage that will be available for occupancy by December 30, 2020.
- Reasonable per unit capital cost for homeless households housed.
- Ability of the project to proceed without CRF funds dedicated to reserves for resident services and/or rental subsidy.
- Projects that meet threshold requirements and also respond to urgent community housing needs around the state.