New emergency vouchers mean “home” to more people and families

Date: Wednesday, May 19, 2021

A Homeless Action Team member in a facemask giving directions.Under the American Rescue Plan of 2021, the Metropolitan Council’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Metro HRA, will receive 218 new emergency vouchers. The vouchers will help connect people experiencing homelessness to housing and housing stability.

More vouchers will help expand partnerships with the Metro Transit Police Department’s Homeless Action Team (HAT) and county continuums of care.

Affordable housing crisis worsens during COVID-19 pandemic

“The region, state, and country have long experienced a severe shortage of affordable homes,” said Metro HRA Director Terri Smith. “COVID-19 has significantly worsened the crisis we already faced. While we have so far to go to meet our affordable housing needs, we are thrilled to have additional vouchers to help address this issue that’s so critical to the health and stability of families and communities.”

Smith says the new vouchers will serve people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

“The homelessness crisis has also worsened during the pandemic,” said Smith. “People experiencing homelessness are highly vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission, illness, and the severity of the disease given their use of shelters and high incidence of underlying health conditions.”

Emergency vouchers come with security deposits, landlord incentives

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing 70,000 housing choice vouchers to local public housing authorities to help individuals and families who are:

  • Homeless
  • At risk of homelessness
  • Fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence
  • At high risk of housing instability

The vouchers come with funds for security deposits, moving expenses, application fees, and landlord incentive funds. There are financial incentives for housing authorities to get the vouchers under lease sooner rather than later. Voucher applicants apply through the County Coordinated Entry Systems, a centralized process that coordinates intake, assessment, and referrals for people experiencing homelessness.

Council team helps people who shelter on transit

“One avenue we’ll pursue to allocate the vouchers is through the HAT program with our partners at the Metro Transit Police Department,” said Smith. “Since we launched the partnership, we’ve been privileged to help more than 200 households find permanent housing. We look forward to expanding housing opportunities to even more households.”

Under the HAT program, transit police officers who are trained as street outreach workers engage with people who use light rail trains as shelter. The partnership allows them to refer some of the people they encounter to the voucher program, which in turn helps people find suitable and long-term housing and adjust to their new living circumstances with advice on paying bills, housekeeping, and setting boundaries.

“It’s not unusual in the transit industry to confront the issue of homelessness,” said Capt. Brooke Blakey of the MTPD. “What is cutting edge is the partnerships that have enabled this program to be so successful, hopefully helping people to get the services and resources that put them on a path to safe and stable housing and the opportunities that are afforded by having a place that’s home.”

Metro HRA is the largest administrator of the Housing Choice Voucher/Section 8 program in the state, providing federal rent assistance to thousands of families in nearly 100 metro area communities. Its service area includes Anoka, Carver, and most of suburban Hennepin and Ramsey Counties (PDF).

Posted In: Housing

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