Federal funds for homeless aid stalled

Federal funds for homeless aid stalled
Posted on 03/26/2016

Lane County awaits nearly $560,000 in grant money for its McKenzie Rapid Re-housing Project

By Junnelle Hogen

The Register-Guard


Over half a million dollars for a Lane County rapid rehousing program for the homeless is hanging in the balance, as the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development stalls on awarding the money.

HUD awarded the bulk of the money for Oregon homelessness assistance programs in early March, including roughly $2 million to the Eugene-Springfield-Lane County system. But HUD said it is waiting until the spring to award the remaining money to applicants. For Lane County, that could be about $736,000.

Most of the funding, about a half a million dollars, would be for one of the biggest ticket anti-homelessness programs in the county: The McKenzie Rapid Re-housing Project, which pays for temporary private-sector rental housing that is lined up for homeless people by Shelter-Care, Catholic Community Services, and Looking Glass Youth and Family Services.

This year, the groups asked for $559,730 from HUD for the program. In the past four years, the program has received between $520,000 to $650,000 annually from HUD.

The groups use the money to pay rents for and provide other support to families and individuals who would otherwise be homeless. The HUD money pays for up to 75 percent of McKenzie Rapid Re-housing’s operating costs, so if the money doesn’t come through, Lane County Health and Human Services — the program’s overseer — would have to find alternative funding or scale back the program.

“Last year, HUD told us they thought there would be cuts,” said Pear Wolfe, the county supervisor who runs the program.

HUD in previous years typically has awarded all the grant money at once, not left part of the decision until the spring.

“The reviews process has taken longer than hoped and (HUD) reached the conclusion it was best to release what they had completed,” wrote HUD Regional Director Leland Jones in an email to The Register-Guard.

While Lane County agencies as a whole still are eligible to receive up to $736,399 in HUD homelessness money this funding cycle, McKenzie will be competing with other projects, he said.

Wolfe said she is unsure why HUD gave the McKenzie Rapid Re-housing Project no money in the initial, larger allocation.

The McKenzie project has existed since 2011, serving families with children, domestic violence victims, people who previously abused drugs or alcohol, and those with mental illness. At any one time, the project pays the rent for nine households without children and 33 households with children. It provided housing for 271 individuals in 96 houses during the 12 months ended June 30, 2015, according to its annual report.

The funding uncertainty for the McKenzie Rapid Re-housing project comes after Lane County changed the McKenzie program based on HUD recommendations, Woolfe said.

Before the 2014 application to HUD, administrators changed the name from McKenzie Transitions to McKenzie Rapid Rehousing Project, and phased new applicants into rental assistance, with the lease in the individuals’ names, instead of under the name of the fund administrators, as had previously been the case.


“It’s one step closer to residents being on their own,” Woolfe said. Jones says HUD has shifted its priorities, providing less money to some ventures that provide short-term help to the homeless.

“There’s a debate on (whether) dollars are better spent on very temporary solutions, like encampments and tiny housing,” Jones said. “I don’t think those are particularly effective ways of ending homelessness. But is rapid rehousing all the sudden out of the woods? No, I don’t think so.”