Homeless in Maricopa County Arizona: Challenges and a Way Forward

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In Part I of this two part series, we learned from Hom, Inc. CEO Michael Shore how his organization is helping non-profits and housing authorities battle the scourge of homelessness within their region.  In this second part, we get a better understanding of the scale of the problem and how Hom, Inc. is working in a transparent manner to help show how they are doing their part to combat homelessness.

Q: What is the current homeless situation in your community?

A: There are over 6,000 homeless persons in the metro region with almost a third of them sleeping rough according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.  The National Alliance to End Homelessness offers more information here.   The Maricopa Association of Governments reported that the 2017 annual homeless Point-in-Time count showed a couple different things.  There was a small reduction in the total number of people homeless but an increase in individuals and families on the street. There’s an accompanying analysis here too.

Q: Do you see advancements?  What are some of the challenges?

A: Our community’s efforts to end homelessness have become more sophisticated and systematic in the last several years.  Our community’s participation in the 100,000 Homes Campaign helped to develop a commitment to prioritization and full adoption of Housing First principles throughout our system.  HUD’s focus on performance measures at both the project and systems level have helped us become more data-driven in our policy and programming.  The evolution of our coordinated entry systems ensure that limited resources are targeted and strategic.  Providers and funders alike are dedicated to using evidence based best practices and establishing and meeting standards of high quality interventions.

While we have seen progress in service planning and delivery, progress in ending homelessness is slower than we’d like.  Inadequate funding from Congress for communities nationally is a challenge.  Locally and as it relates to HOM’s services, one of our greatest challenges is the dearth of affordable housing and an incredibly strong rental market with historically low vacancy rates and rent growth.  Owners and managers of multifamily property in the Phoenix metro area enjoy vacancy rates in the 2% range and three years running of 6% or higher increases in rents.  B and C class properties have seen significant acquisition, rehabilitation and re-positioning in the market.  This reduces inventory of units available for assisted and unassisted renters.  Rents far exceed HUD Fair Market Rents and payment standards, tenant selection criteria are narrow, and fewer landlords accept rental assistance programs at properties.

At HOM, Inc., we are constantly striving to overcome these barriers and expand housing opportunities for those we serve.  We have created the position of Housing Location Specialist, responsible for outreach, education and recruitment of landlords and for assisting participants in their housing search, including providing transportation and assistance with applying for tenancy.  The Arizona Department of Housing has also recently launched the Arizona Landlord Incentive Program, a risk mitigation fund for landlords to cover damages and vacancy loss for tenancies of programs working to end homelessness.

Q:Finally; please feel free to add anything you might want me to consider.  

Despite the challenging rental market, we are succeeding in assisting our participants to secure permanent housing in the community.  On average, together with our partners, we help 89 households end their homelessness each month.  In September of 2017, across all our programs, 116 individuals and families moved into housing of their own in the community.

One of our values is a commitment to transparently using data for learning and improvement.  We are excited to be early users of Tableau, a data visualization platform, to understand our performance in key areas.  We plan to move beyond simple bar charts of numbers of households housed to look at the length of time for various housing processes, lengths of assistance, financial utilization and other programmatic aspects in the future.

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Conclusion:

Maricopa County is a good example of how private companies can come along side the non-profit industry and government sector to help in the fight against homelessness.  The owner of Hom Inc. did not seek out publicity but was recommended for the organization’s work.  As the fight to end homelessness increases, all areas of the country should think about ways in which we can allow non-profits to deliver on their mission to deliver services and help them navigate the complicated and tricky world of federal and state housing policy.

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