Senate Appropriations Subcommittees Assess HUD-VASH, Veteran Homelessness
On Thursday, May 20, 2010, a joint hearing of two Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittees – the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, and the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies – was held to examine the status of ending veteran homelessness, with a focus on the state of permanent supportive housing vouchers for homeless veterans. Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) conducted multiple rounds of questioning and inquired into the effectiveness of the interdepartmental voucher program called HUD-VASH.
The hearing, titled “Housing America’s Heroes: An Examination of the Progress in Ending Veterans’ Homelessness,” featured two Cabinet-level secretaries – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, who is also the current chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) – and Executive Director of the USICH Barbara Poppe. Both Shinseki and Poppe will be keynote speakers at the 2010 NCHV Annual Conference in mid-June.
From the start, Secretary Shinseki had high praise for community-based service providers, whom he called “the real creative geniuses here in saving the homeless.” Community partnerships are the focus of the sixth strategic pillar of VA’s Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness. “Our success in this venture is not possible without them,” Shinseki said.
The dynamic of the two secretaries was an important factor in determining the state of HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers – which are permanent housing vouchers coupled with VA supportive services, and are primarily targeted to chronically homeless veterans.
30,000 vouchers have been appropriated and will help “reduce the number of homeless veterans to 59,000 by June of 2012,” Secretary Shaun Donovan said.
“Indeed, I’m proud to say that in the first quarter of the calendar year, we increased the rate of issuance [of vouchers] by 44 percent,” he elaborated. “In all, more than 19,000 HUD-VASH vouchers are in veterans’ hands as we speak.”
Secretary Shinseki clarified the voucher situation in his statement.
“As of 30 April, roughly 19,000 of the 20,000 HUD-VASH vouchers that were assigned in previous budgets have been assigned to veterans,” he said. “And of these, 13,000 veterans are already in housing – no longer homeless. The remaining 7,000 are in search for housing and expect to be housed before the end of the year.”
In order to fulfill VA’s Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness, however, Secretaries Donovan and Shinseki believe that about twice as many vouchers will be necessary.
“To be clear – and we spend a lot of work and time with Secretary Shinseki and his team – our estimate is that through those five years we would need in the range of an additional 30,000 VASH vouchers,” Donovan explained. “So a total of 60,000, we believe, would be enough to get to the goal of ending veterans’ homelessness because there are a whole set of other resources that are available.”
The senators on the joint subcommittee were curious as to why, despite the program’s importance and increasing success, the President’s FY 2011 Budget proposal contained no new funding request for HUD-VASH vouchers.
“I am absolutely puzzled why there was no request,” Sen. Kit Bond said.
“We felt at the time the budget was put together, that given the challenges we were having in issuing the vouchers, leasing them up, we were concerned that in 2011 – not a long-term stoppage but for that one year – that we were concerned about the capacity to actually utilize those vouchers,” Secretary Donovan said. “I think we are more confident today then we were then that vouchers in ’11 could be leased-up and utilized more quickly.”
When Donovan restated his position, stating that “this administration believes that HUD-VASH has been a critical tool and, that as we continue to make improvements, believe that it can be a critical tool going forward,” Sen. Patty Murray posed a pointed question to him.
“So you can use additional funding in 2011?” she asked.
“He’s not going to say so, but we’re going to give it to him anyway,” Sen. Bond said before Secretary Donovan was able to respond.
Continue to regularly visit nchv.org for more information on the Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness and for updates on the legislative and budgetary process as it affects homeless veteran service providers.