March 5, 2013

A New Housing Paradigm

You may have noticed that there’s an increasing focus on the challenges of providing safe and affordable housing for extremely low-income (ELI) households in Virginia. In housing parlance, ELI means folks with a household income at or below 30% of the median for their area and adjusted for family size. These households often include people with special needs, such as the frail elderly, disabled, homeless and ex-offenders.

For a number of years now, VHDA has successfully offered below market interest rate loans to non-profit and for profit developers looking to build rental housing for these populations through our Sponsoring Partnerships and Revitalizing Communities (SPARC) Program. In addition, VHDA also offers other incentives to develop such housing, including the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program that VHDA administers for the Commonwealth.

Housing alone, however, does not make a home. These special needs populations, for a variety of reasons, also need supportive services to help them cope with life’s challenges other than securing affordable housing. Unfortunately, housing and service programs traditionally have been created, funded and administered by separate agencies, each with its own terminology, policies and procedures. As a result, the ‘housers’ and the ‘servicers’ each do their 'thing’ in separate silos that don’t foster creative cooperation. This shortage of collaboration is especially critical in these very tight economic times when resources are scarce.

The good news? This may be changing!  VHDA is participating on a task force with other state and local housing and human service agencies, and non-profit groups. The job at hand is to create a Housing Plan to implement the recent U.S. Department of Justice Settlement with the Commonwealth of Virginia.  As a result, there now is a working group of both housing and services providers developing a plan for the seamless delivery of supportive services. This plan will enable intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals to live in affordable housing in their communities of choice. While this housing with services effort doesn’t address all ELI special needs populations, VHDA thinks it may prove to be a useful model for the future. And we welcome your thoughts on this new housing paradigm.

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