Thanks for the Help to Sign Up for Housing

NEOCH Signed 255 People up for Housing Voucher Last Week

            NEOCH participated in a major effort to house the homeless the week of August 3 – 7 by getting them signed up for the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. Through this effort we were able to sign up 255 homeless and at risk individuals for the housing voucher waiting list. Based on previous lottery statistics NEOCH estimate that 36**of these individuals will be offered a housing choice voucher. NEOCH recruited 24 volunteers with the help of HandsOn Northeast Ohio.  These volunteers brought their laptops, tablets and smartphones to 12 homeless shelters and drop-in centers and spent a total of 80 hours signing up homeless members of the Cleveland community for housing.

            The CMHA housing choice voucher program (HCVP) was formerly known as Section 8. This voucher can be the ticket out of homelessness to those that receive it.  However, the opportunity to sign up for this program is extremely rare. The HCVP only accepted applications for 5 days last week and this list only opens once every four years. Additionally, the application for the voucher program is only available online.

The infrequency of the HCVP combined with the online-only application, make this program difficult for homeless people to access. NEOCH saw the need to make the HCVP application accessible to homeless people as vital. The goal was to ensure that every homeless and at-risk person in Cleveland had a chance to fill out an application. With the help of our volunteers and several organizations, we believe we were able to come very close.

NEOCH would like to thank the Cleveland Tenants Organization and HandsOn Northeast Ohio for sending us volunteers from their staff. We would also like to thank the following organizations for allowing us to use space in their facility; 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter, Bishop Cosgrove Center, The City Mission, Laura’s Home, Northstar Neighborhood Re-entry Center and The LGBT Center of Cleveland. In addition to the 255 people NEOCH signed up, most of the local shelters dedicated staff and computers to sign up their residents.  We would like the facilities that hosted volunteers including: 2100 Lakeside, Laura’s Home, City Mission, Oriana House, Northstar Neighborhood re-entry and West Side Catholic Center. Lastly we could not have accomplished any of this without the help of volunteers. We would like to thank the following volunteers for their efforts; Fouad, Gina, Kathy, Sophia, Jessica, Shareasa, Mike, Jeramiah, Kris, Anne, Jennifer, James, Jeff, Beth and Kevin.

CMHA HCVP Sign-up Statistics

Total Applicants Assisted by volunteers: 255

Estimated # of people that will be housed due to this effort: ** (51 more likely)

Total Volunteers: 16

Total volunteer hours: 62

Average # of applications completed per volunteer shift: 8.2

Shelters and drop-in centers that hosted volunteers: 10

Megan the Intern

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**PS:  August 21--Found out that about 50,000 people applied when the lottery was open which means that people have a 1 in 5 chance so 51 people we signed up will most likely receive a voucher eventually.

You Can Help People Out of Homelessness This Week!!!

On Monday August 3rd the Cleveland Housing Voucher opens! Volunteers are needed to help people sign-up! The Housing Voucher application is only open for 5 days, Monday through Friday. Many people of the homeless community are not experienced enough with the Internet to access and qucikly fill out the application themselves. This is where you come in! Numerous places in the Cleveland area need volunteers to help people sign up at their location. Volunteers only need to be able to volunteer for 3 hours on a single night.  For every seven people that you help complete an application, you are guaranteed to get one person out of homelessness.

The last time the housing voucher opened up over 64,000 people signed up, and 10,000 people received access to housing. This year we are expecting the same numbers. Since the voucher program is only open for 5 days, there is a substantial need for volunteers. By volunteering you can make a huge and direct impact on the homeless community. NEOCH can offer the training and place you at a spot.  There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you had a clear influence on getting an individual off the streets. Call Megan at NEOCH at 216/432-0540 to volunteer or send her an e-mail advocacy (at) neoch (dot) org.

by Dan the Intern

Volunteers Needed to Help People Sign Up for Housing

The Housing Choice Voucher Program will open their waiting list in August for the first time since 2011.  We will train and place volunteers at shelters and social service providers to help low income folks sign up for a voucher.  If you would like to help call or e-mail NEOCH.  We hope to get 50 volunteers who can go out into the field to sign people up for housing.

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Interesting CAHA update on CMHA

The Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance Meeting took place last week and the big news was that CMHA is going to have to open the Section 8 (Housing Choice Voucher Program) waiting list.  The last time it was opened was 2011 and 10,000 names were drawn.  The problem is that the list is getting stale with most of the people on the list no longer around.  They either do not respond or have relocated or are no longer in need.  It is most likely that this summer they will have to re-open the waiting list for the voucher program in August or July. 

Everything will be pretty similar to 2011 with the application open for 5 to 7 days exclusively online (no paper applications).  Everyone in need of housing or who suspects they will need help with the rent between now and 2020 should apply.  We will have more details in the near future.

Public Housing officials also attended and reported that there are 9,600 total units in the Public Housing inventory with 99% occupied.  There are now 20,700 people waiting on the wait list with 70% waiting for a single bedroom. The current Public Housing list is 36% families and 23% seniors.  25% of the residents do not have income and 20% are on Social Security.  18% are employed and 17% are on some form of disability.  In a sign of how trivial cash assistance is now in the world only 2% of the total population receive assistance from the welfare department. 

CMHA is starting to rebuild Cedar Estates and renovate Bohn Tower and the former Garden Valley apartments.  They are working on the final phase of Carver Park and renovating Riverside Park.  Some of these properties are being renovated using private bank financing, which had been prohibited in the past. 

The President's budget is favorable toward the housing authorities, but who knows how that will play out by October.  The Housing Authority is working on how these newly created units developed with private dollars will integrate into the public housing system.  This current system has the highest number of occupied units since 1988.  The Housing Choice Voucher program has 14,000 participants and the program but is under utilized.  Most people are not showing up for their appointments to fill the voucher program and the waiting list is rather stale.  CMHA officials estimate that they will exhaust the Housing Choice Voucher waiting list in May of this year. 

The Voucher program is working with the long term homeless, veterans and those aging out of the foster care system.  They are planning to assist with the Pay for Success program to keep the time spent in foster care down.   There are 60 to 70 who leave the program every month and there are only 2,700 left on the 2011 waiting list.  There are 305 in the Veterans program and more to give out. 

The next CAHA meeting will feature Bill Faith of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio on April 6, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

Brian Davis

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Next Week Monthly Affordable Housing Meeting

One of the most fragile groups because of the Sequestration and the fact that regular federal budgets are not passed is the public housing authorities around the United States.  We worry about how the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority in Cleveland is surviving with the unstable funding from the federal government.  They have taken hit after hit and forced to rely on reserves that have dwindled over the last five years to house the thousands of people waiting for affordable housing locally.  They have done everything they can to avoid evictions as a result of budget cuts, but it is a huge juggling act.  This next Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meeting is Monday December 2, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. in the lower level of the US Bank Building (1350 Euclid Ave. ) and will feature both sides of the CMHA programs.

We will feature Scott Pollock CMHA Public Housing to present his periodic look at the Housing Authority at the Monday CAHA meeting.  Pollock will update us on development activities, waiting list numbers, federal budget issues, and current demographics of those housed.  Priscilla Pointer Hicks of the Housing Choice Voucher Program will provide a periodic update on the Voucher Program including occupancy rates, waiting list, turnovers and the saturation into the suburbs.  Pointer Hicks will talk about federal budget projections and the impact on the local agency, and any trends with the voucher program. Finally, Ken Williamson of Senator Sherrod Brown’s office will take a few minutes to discuss the move of the Multifamily HUD unit to Detroit.  The Senator's office has done some work on this issue and would like to report.

All are welcome to attend to hear more about the Housing Authority. 

Brian Davis

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Change.org Petition in Support of Suburban Privacy

The Cleveland Plain Dealer featured an article about a brewing dispute between the suburbs and EDEN inc. over the rights for the suburban communities to know the addresses of all EDEN voucher holders.   [We have to identify for full disclosure that we have a board member who works for EDEN, but he had nothing to do with the development of the NEOCH position on this dispute or the petition on Change.org.]

We have started a Change.org petition to address this issue.  The First Suburbs Consortium demanded that EDEN turn over their list of addresses this summer before they would be willing to support public dollars going to the last Permanent Housing Project owned by EDEN.    Both Cuyahoga County and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have sided with EDEN saying that they do not have to turn over the names or addresses of their tenants. In fact, in the Plain Dealer article the County has stated that this would undermine fair housing laws and HUD weighed in with a letter in 2012 indicating that this is a poor policy and would undermine the local and national efforts to prevent and end homelessness.  We certainly agree with this position. 

The suburbs are claiming that they have successfully leveraged the list of voucher holders by CMHA Housing Choice Voucher Program and so therefore they should be allowed to get the same information from EDEN.  The difference is that nearly every voucher holder with EDEN is a disabled individual and many have struggled with homelessness. We objected to CMHA giving over this information so this is not a defense for invading the privacy of tenants.   There is no good reason for the suburbs to collect this information.  It will only make it more difficult to convince landlords to accept vouchers from EDEN if they have to deal with government and potentially neighbors raising objections. Remember, these are the same folks that wanted Section 8 tenants to have to go to "school" to learn how to live in the suburbs of Cleveland in a policy pushed by Cleveland Hts. Mayor Ed Kelley a couple of years back.

I have personally seen where a caller complained about a decaying property to a local suburb and the Development staff disclosed that the property was a "Section 8 tenant."  Even though this information is supposed to be confidential, the suburban staff identified the tenant as low income with the federal government paying part of their rent.  To the neighbors who are complaining, they hear this and think bad property is associated with a Housing Choice Voucher Tenant holder when in fact it is usually a bad landlord issue. We have witnessed the hate and misunderstandings associated with homeless and disabled people.  We believe that disclosure of CMHA voucher holders and certainly EDEN voucher holders will harm the program, leave tenants vulnerable to hate crimes and make landlords less likely to participate in these programs. 

We have set up a Change.org petition to encourage people to sign in opposition to this policy here.  Just click on the link and enter your name on the Change.org website.  Please join this campaign: http://chn.ge/1f8RF6A. We ask that if you talk to your local Mayor or City Council member that they oppose this policy of collecting the names of the disabled living in their community.  Please send us any responses that you get from your local community.  We all need to stand with EDEN and the tenants of EDEN in opposition to this invasion of privacy by the suburban communities. 

The First Suburbs Consortium has responded to the petition and tried to thread the needle that identifying addresses does not identify the names of the tenant.  This is a distinction without a difference.  The potential for hate or threats will be directed at all tenants who are receiving government help not a specific tenant.  This polarized culture we live in makes the risk too great to identify where a disabled tenant lives in this community.  If a community can rise up and spread myths and exaggerations about homeless people and homeless programs to stop the development of a brand new housing facility or pass off racism and classism as a movement to "reduce government" anything is possible.  They could not ask that MetroHealth release the addresses of its patients to see if they paid for ambulance runs and they should not ask EDEN to provide the addresses of their disabled clients for any reason.  

Please support our petition by signing it. 

Brian Davis

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More on the Local Impact of the Government Shutdown

Yesterday at the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance Meeting we learned a little more about the impact of the Federal Government shutdown on housing and homeless programs.   The FHA is still in business doing verification of home loans, unfortunately, the IRS is not in business to verify income.  This will grind the home sales market to a standstill eventually.   No one is working at HUD to sign off on projects currently under construction.  It makes it difficult to pay construction and tradesmen working on subsidized housing projects locally. Contrary to popular belief there are affordable housing projects being developed locally.   There are permanent supportive housing projects that are supposed to open this winter, but there is no one at HUD to sign off on the work.  

The Housing Authority has money available through the end of the calendar year for Public Housing.   The voucher program only has funds through the end of October.  No one knows what will happen after the witching hour of Halloween.  Will staff be furloughed?  Will rents be paid to landlords?   Will there be an attempt to prioritize which bills to pay.   There are already a mythology in the community about voucher holders and the impact on the neighborhoods with only half the available properties willing to accept a tenant receiving a subsidy from the Housing Choice Voucher program.  This would certainly cause harm to the organization and their image in the community if they run out of money because of the government shutdown. 

More to come...

Brian Davis

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Social Engineering Article in the Plain Dealer

There was a strange and long article in the Plain Dealer last week from Stephen Koff regarding "social engineering"  at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that you might have missed.  The article suggests that enforcing a Civil Rights era law could be "social engineering."  Then a letter was published on Friday that shows the fear and mythology that has developed around the Housing Choice voucher program and Public Housing in our community.  First, the letter was highly offensive and incorrect, and should not have been printed in the paper.  Ms. Melillo has no proof that "incoming section 8 people bring their bad habits and culture with them--violence, drugs, prostitution, deterioration and loud music..."  A voucher holder can live anywhere in the community, and are not as concentrated as the Public Housing buildings in which 100% of the tenants are poor.

She goes on to misstate the population as not having been born here and do not own property.  This seems like either a criticism of absentee landlords or tenants in general, because it is clear that most recipients of a housing voucher are Clevelanders who may have to relocate to a new neighborhood but grew up in the area.  They have a hard time finding a landlord who will accept a voucher with a property that can pass Housing Quality Standards. Landlords need to maintain their properties not tenants.  Then she goes onto mischaracterize Habitat for Humanity, which does provide on-going support to their mortgage holders to help them with housing maintenance issues.  To answer your question Ms. Melillo, these people are here because they need housing and the vast majority are law abiding good neighbors.  You need to look at your own prejudices and misdirected anger to understand why you have this bias against people who you perceive as different than you. 

Mr. Koff's article does not touch on the racisim, classism and government obstacles put in the way of developing affordable housing outside of the urban core.  The letter in response to Koff's article shows how hardened stereotypes are in this community toward clients of CMHA.  The HUD Secretary can gather all the data he or she wants, but in the end if Cleveland Hts demands to know every Section 8 tenant in their city or the Lakewood Mayor runs on a platform to reduce the number of "Section 8 tenants" in his city, there is no way to de-concentrate, social engineer or reduce segregation.  This is common sense that we should have every opportunity for disadvantaged populations to move to neighborhoods in which they will have a better chance for success.  The problem is that these suburban communities do everything they can to block the development of affordable housing.  It is so difficult and expensive to bring a case forward against a community that is violating the 1968 Fair Housing Act. 

The Housing Center in Cleveland does a job training and informing tenants about their rights.  They challenge buildings that are built without access for disabled individuals, and protect against "redlining" in the insurance and mortgage markets, but the problem is so overwhelming and complicated.  In nearly every suburban community and in the City of Cleveland, the Housing Authority has to turn over the list of Housing Choice voucher holders to the local Community Development departments.  What these government officials do with this data is unclear and not spelled out in the agreement.  In addition, there are no fixed shelters outside the City of Cleveland, so poor people in the suburbs who lose their housing have to go to another City for help.  There are very few subsidized housing units developed outside the City of Cleveland, because of community opposition.   No matter how many stats one community gathers the concentration of poor people in a few communities will not change.  The City of Cincinnati in a cutting off their nose response banned the development of affordable housing until the suburban communities began developing affordable housing.

What happens if we use the evidence provided by HUD to show that we should not build any more affordable housing in the Central, Mt. Pleasant or Glenville neighborhoods?  We won't have any affordable housing left.  The current housing needs replaced and if we wait until Ms. Melillo and  her kind accept public housing residents we will have to double or triple the number of emergency shelter beds.   We need a percentage of every development in the community to also develop affordable properties.  So, if Solon offers infrastructure improvements (roads, water, sewer, telephone) for a 30 unit housing development five of those units should be sold or offered to low income tenants or mortgage holders. 

I live next to a Housing Choice Voucher holder and have for years.  The tenants are fine quiet people trying to earn enough money to get a better place.  The landlord is the problem.  The landlord does not keep up his property.  He does not mow the lawn.  He is slow to do maintenance on the property.  He took out the sidewalk and replaced part of it at the request of the City, and just piled up the old broken up sidewalk behind his garage.  He fixed up the place to pass inspection, but does not maintain the place.  He gets paid by the government every month the same amount of money, and he is not keeping his property up to the standard of the neighborhood.  But, this can happen with some homeowners as well who you may not get along with or those struggling with finding regular employment.  I don't think my neighbor is representative of the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8), and I don't think it is fair to point to a "culture" of a person or those who get help with their rent as representative of anything. Bad neighbors come in all races, backgrounds, and economic levels.  Be glad if you have good neighbors because you never know. 

The Plain Dealer article fails to take into account the local reality.  The Plain Dealer does not look at all the barriers to affordable housing.  All the historical attempts to keep blacks in certain neighborhoods are not discussed.  Finally, we are never going to advance equality issues if we are stuck on labelling the tools for implementing civil rights era legislation as "social engineering."  How do we begin to talk about Fair Housing II with greater protections for lesbian and gay renters or source of income protections, when we can't even agree that forcing all the poor people to live in the same neighborhood doesn't help anyone?

Sequestration = Chaos and Confusion

Two CMHA officials gave their periodic update about the agency at the last CAHA meeting.  Media are not supposed to quote presenters at CAHA so that they can be free to be speak honestly.  But we can give you the basics of the meeting: Sequestration means chaos and confusion.  Throughout the federal government this week and with non-profit agencies receiving the bulk of their money from the federal government there are lots of meetings happening.  They are wasting human capital figuring out how to cut staff, travel, or other costs because Congress is so dysfunctional.  They are implementing what both parties agreed would never happen.  It has happened and it will have real consequences for people living in Public Housing. 

The issue is that both Public Housing and the Voucher Program are at nearly 100% occupied, and these cuts have to be across the board.  So they can not take any new people in like the Housing Choice Voucher program has decided to do, but eventually the 5% cut will catch up to involve evictions.  The other problem is that the agency received a huge cut last year and they were told to go into their reserves.  Then Congress never passed a budget and just continued the 2012 budget which was a still a substantial decrease.  Many are running low on their reserves and cannot continue unless there is a fix or restoration of cuts from last year.  The bigger problem for both agencies is the Continuing Resolution runs out at the end of March.  This great unknown of what will happen on March 28 is by far a bigger concern for the Housing Authority. 

Housing Authorities have been instructed to cut 5% across the board, but that is 5% for the year so each month is a much larger increase since we are well into the fiscal year.  For example, the Housing Authority only received 89% of what they were expecting for March because of Sequestration.  They are meeting all the time to figure out what to do.  So, instead of repairing units, finding additional revenue, or housing people they are wasting their time figuring out how to divide up 85% of the budget they need to stay open. Eventually, the tenants and landlords are going to feel the pain, but right now it is just a headache for the administration.  They may have to put off rebuilding projects or furlough staff.  They are committed to maintain the people currently in housing and making the last cut to people currently housed.  It was mentioned that this could result in more homeless people.  The sad fact is that the homeless shelters will also see a 5% cut.  The shelter cuts would not start being seen until the fall, but we are already seeing a backup in the shelters where no one is leaving.  So, the men's shelter is having issues where the communities are static and very few are moving into housing.  This is causing a back up at the front door and more people facing an overflow situation. 

Sequestration means chaos for Public Housing.  It means confusion and insecurity for the future of the voucher program.  We will see what happens over the next month, but right now it is a big waste of time that could be over if Congress would just do their jobs. 

Brian Davis

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Sequestration and Public Housing in Cleveland

We never would hVendor Marsha (bird costume) and Ron with CMHA Riverview in the backgroundave imagined that Congress would drive the bus over the edge.  They had nearly two  years to work out a deal, and they could not do it.  So, it was only a coincidence that we scheduled both Public Housing and the Housing Choice Voucher Program staff at the CAHA meeting on the first business day since Sequestration had started.  On Monday March 4, 2013, the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meeting will feature Scott Pollock, Director of Planning and Activities for CMHA will discuss Public Housing in the days of Sequestration.  The meeting is at 1:30 p.m. at the HUD offices 1350 Euclid Ave. in the Playhouse Square neighborhood will also feature Priscilla Pointer Hicks of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. 

Both programs have faced repeated budget cuts over the last five years, so will be especially hard hit with sequestration.   We have not heard many specifics on how this will impact the local community especially the low income residents of Cleveland.  We will post some of the consequences of Sequestration for Public Housing and the Voucher program next week.

Here are the cuts that will take place this year nationally:

$199 million cut from public housing
$96 million cut from Homeless Assistance Grants
$17 million cut from Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS
$19 million cut from Housing for the Elderly
$175 million cut from Low Income Home Energy Assistance

Next months CAHA (April 1) will feature Ruth Gillett of Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services to talk about the impact of budget cuts on homeless programs.

Brian Davis

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