Within this area, funding will be directed at efforts that improve individuals' and families' ability to access the right mix of supportive housing services that will help them achieve greater independence, as well as support homeownership for low-income people.
For people to thrive, they need a place to call home. Whether they own or rent, it has to be safe, affordable, and offer the emotional and psychological space they need to make other changes that improve their lives. It’s the foundation for their future success.
When you combine that home with conveniently located voluntary services like job training, parenting education, youth and children’s programs, mental health support, and case management—people struggling to stay afloat have the best chance to stabilize their lives and move ahead economically. This combination—called supportive housing—has been used in the Twin Cities for many years. Research has consistently shown that supportive housing is cost-effective, and has positive outcomes on the stability, health, and employment of its residents.
We know that as effective as supportive housing is, there are challenges and inefficiencies in the system that must be addressed so it functions optimally for greater client outcomes. In 2009, Metro-wide Engagement on Shelter and Housing (MESH) formed the Metro Services Funding Workgroup to identify supportive services funding needed to end homelessness. In its year-end report, MESH recommended that:
- The public and private sectors work together to “create a better system to get people to the right programs. A system that is as seamless as possible so that if, for example, a rapid re-housing or prevention intervention does not work for someone, there are other options available, including transitional and permanent supportive housing.”
- “There should be incentives to transition people who have benefited from supportive housing but no longer need it, in order to open the unit/services for someone who needs it. This might require rental assistance and /or short-term support. Government should consider targeting some resources to helping people exit supportive housing if they no longer want and need it. The result would be a more efficient use of the dollars being invested in supportive housing.”
These findings correlate well with what we heard throughout 2010, as we talked with supportive housing providers, funders, government leaders, and policymakers about how to make this model more efficient and productive for those who need it.
Our funding will help ensure that people with low incomes have access to quality, stable, affordable housing that gives them the opportunity to move forward.
1. Development and implementation of a demonstration project focused on a standardized assessment and placement system.
Since early 2011, The Foundation has been engaged with a group of key community stakeholders to develop, design and implement a Centralized Supportive Housing Referral System. These stakeholders include representatives from Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Dakota County, Minnesota Housing, Heading Home Minnesota, and HousingLink.
The need for this system was identified as part of the Foundation's community learning activities during 2010. In 2010, the Foundation conducted a series of community convenings with supportive housing providers in addition to content expert interviews to determine how the Foundation, with fewer available resources, might continue to make meaningful investments in the supportive housing system. Among the many themes that emerged was a consistent thread about the inefficiency case managers experience in trying to find appropriate housing for their clients while also navigating a disparate and scattered system of housing opportunities. Centralizing this system, they said, would create a level playing field for all those seeking supportive housing while also creating efficiencies in the system, allowing case managers to spend more time working with clients on their many needs and less time trying to find housing.
The assumption we are operating under is that more appropriate referrals will lead to better placements where people get the right mix and intensity of services for their particular needs. This should help stabilize them and, if appropriate, move back to independent living more quickly with greater economic stability.
In 2011, we convened a group of supportive housing provides and housing leaders to share our progress on development of a centralized referral system and determine any gaps or problems with the project. Overwhelmingly, they supported the need for this system and agreed to advise us at check-in points throughout the development and implementation of the project.
The Foundation will continue to convene this group of community stakeholders as we move towards technical design and implementation of the project. The goal is to launch this new system with a pilot group of providers in late 2012.
The Foundation does accept unsolicited applications for this demonstration project.
2. Advocacy and policy efforts to increase affordable housing and subsidies
We will support advocacy and policy efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing and to make public subsidies more portable, so individuals can keep them when they graduate from supportive housing.
There’s often little incentive for people who have stabilized to move out of supportive housing, creating a log-jam with wait lists and diminished opportunity for some. This is exacerbated by the shortage of affordable places for people to live. The Twin Cities needs an estimated 51,000 new units of affordable housing by 2020 to meet the demand. But building housing at this scale requires incentives, tax credits, and other policy and zoning changes that need strong advocacy. Another barrier to residents who are ready to move out of supportive housing is the fact that their public subsidy often ends when they leave. Allowing them to take subsidies with them would encourage them to move on because they’d be able to afford market-rate housing without gutting their budgets and potentially cycling back to homelessness.
Applications for housing advocacy and policy efforts will not be accepted in 2012.
3. Homeownership promotion
We will support a small group of nonprofits that provide and promote sustainable homeownership opportunities for people with low incomes.
Owning a home is a solid pathway to economic stability. It allows people to build wealth and become part of a community. Now is an ideal time to aggressively promote homeownership for people with low incomes. Increased availability of housing stock—including many rehabbed properties—due to the foreclosure crisis creates timely buying opportunities at lower prices. Current tax credit programs can further lower prices. In addition, good home ownership education is available in this region to prepare first-time buyers for success.
The Foundation will invite proposals from selected organizations.
If you have a program that you feel fits this funding priority and would like to tell us about it, click here to fill out a short LOI.