HUD Defunds Seven Transitional Housing Programs In Arizona, Many Families Facing Possible Eviction

Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 7:49am
Updated: Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 8:57am
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(Photo courtesy of House of Refuge)
By defunding transitional housing groups like House of Refuge, residents now face an uncertain future.
(Photo courtesy of House of Refuge)
Michelle Walat says programs such as these have helped her two young daughters. She is scared about the possibility of being homeless again.
(Photo courtesy of House of Refuge)
House of Refuge Executive Director Nancy Marion says houses like these will remain vacant unless adequate funding can be secured, which the city of Mesa is trying to help with.

Earlier this month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, defunded seven transitional housing programs in the state. Organizations like these serve Arizona’s homeless families. And the loss of this funding could result in evictions.

Michelle Walat is single mother of two girls. She’s has no family here and she's scared.

"If we lose this housing, we have nowhere to go. We have no money, so I will be basically living on the streets with my two little girls," said Walat.

Walat and her daughters have lived at House of Refuge for the past eight months. This Mesa-based transitional housing organization puts a roof over the heads of some 66 families using HUD funds. Walat would have been allowed to stay at House of Refuge for up to two years. But now HUD has defunded it, leaving 94 adults and 125 children in limbo.

"The worst case scenario is that we start issuing eviction notices and that we have nowhere to send the families," explained Nancy Marion, the Executive Director at House of Refuge. She says 80 percent of the residents are like Walat-- single mothers with two or three children, making around $1,500 a month. Many are the victims of domestic violence; others are what Marion calls the “working poor.”

"So, the hopes of bringing them into House of Refuge was we can help them find a job that has a higher income potential, we can help them learn financial literacy," she said of her program, which has been in existence for nearly 20 years.

For HUD, that housing model isn’t doing enough to solve the problem of homelessness. Instead, the agency now promotes initiatives like Rapid Rehousing. 

"In other words there’s no need for communities to require homeless people, homeless families to transition into a permanent home," explained Ed Cabrera who is with HUD in San Francisco. "The most effective, most cost efficient way to end people’s homelessness is frankly to give them a home."

While also providing stabilization services like credit counseling, deposits, moving cost assistance and mediation. And according to HUD they have data that shows programs like Rapid Rehousing works. That might be true, but Mesa Mayor John Giles has another very real concern: "In the name of solving homelessness we’re creating homelessness."

He says while there may be wisdom behind Rapid Rehousing, what’s happening right now, on the ground, is creating a crisis for already vulnerable families. So how did this even happen?

Six years ago, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness crafted a plan to prevent and end homelessness. One way to do that is to cut to the chase, and provide permanent housing. 

"The way communities prioritize programs reflects that, HUD's policy reflects that and what that has resulted in is a number of transitional housing programs that are not as cost effective and efficient and outcome-oriented being defunded," explained Cabrera.

The organization responsible for prioritizing programs like House of Refuge at the local level is the Maricopa Association of Governments’ Continuum of Care Regional Committee on Homelessness. HUD requires a Continuum of Care to place organizations in one of two tiers. Tier One projects are priority projects,and are very likely to get funded. With Tier Two projects, there's no guarantee HUD provide will provide funding.

Houe of Refuge was categorized as Tier Two. A spokesperson for MAG says the grant process is highly competitive and this year was one of the most competitive, according to a HUD press release.

As for Michelle Walat and her two daughters, the future is murky. "You know they ask me what are we going to do. And I just keep saying god will make a way, but inside I’m just as terrified."

House of Refuge hopes to secure enough funding to so it can safely transition these families into another program. 

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