Adopt a Homeless Preference — Step 1: Assemble Your Team

And consider joining the ‘Opening Doors’ initiative

Homeless Preference

Have you been thinking about adopting a homeless preference at your property? Are you unsure about how to get started? No worries – there is a clearly defined roadmap that you can use to create and implement a homeless preference, so you don’t have to reinvent the proverbial wheel.

Housing providers who have adopted a homeless preference are realizing the benefits and enjoying the many flexibilities—such as choosing the properties you feel are best-suited for the preference and the homeless populations you want to serve—says assisted housing expert Debbie Hixon in her webinar, “Opening Our Doors with a Homeless Preference: What You Need to Know.”

Realize 7 Key Benefits

For several years now, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has operated a special program called “Opening Doors” to encourage multifamily housing providers to adopt a homeless preference. In October 2015, HUD published a special toolkit that service providers and multifamily property owners can use to create and implement a homeless preference.

Perks: A fundamental benefit of adopting a homeless preference for your property is becoming part of the federal and state efforts to end homelessness in your community, explains Oregon Housing and Community Services. But there are pragmatic reasons as well. Adopting a homeless preference will help you to:

  • Reduce onsite staffing efforts with referrals and completed applications from community service providers;
  • Reduce your vacancy rates and increase your monthly revenue;
  • Have more flexibility in deciding how many vacancies to fill, with no regulated preference rate for filling vacancies;
  • Develop longer and more stable tenancies;
  • Enjoy no HUD-approval requirements for setting preferences; and
  • Earn special and add-on management fees from HUD.

Bonus: When you decided to adopt a homeless preference, the special start-up fee rate is $2.50 per unit per month for up to nine months, up to $4,500 per property, according to Leading Age. You can also get an add-on fee of $2.00 per unit per month (up to $3,600 per property per year) as long as you’ve admitted one previously homeless individual or household to your property during a one-year period.

Begin with 7 Essential Steps

The HUD toolkit draws on lessons learned and best practices developed from the 2012 pilot initiative, Dedicating Opportunities to End Homelessness (DOEH), which involved 10 communities.

The toolkit outlines seven major steps to implement a homeless preference:

  1. Create a Multifamily Planning and Implementation Team (MPIT);
  2. Examine and understand your community’s needs and multifamily resources;
  3. Identify and engage service providers;
  4. Engage multifamily property owners;
  5. Formalize agreements between service providers and owners;
  6. Support owners’ implementation of a homeless preference; and
  7. Refine the process.

Get started: The first step – assembling your team – is critical to all the other steps that follow. You need strong core leadership to drive the process and decision-making. First, look to your community’s Continuum of Care (CoC) to seek out leadership, as the CoC is an essential player in the homeless preference initiative, HUD urges.

Other members of your leadership team could include leaders from large housing and service provider organizations, local coalitions of homeless providers, nonprofit service organizations involved in homelessness, and/or state or local officials in the fields of homelessness, affordable housing or community development.

Or: Your community may already have a multi-stakeholder coordinating body that’s well-placed and willing to take on a homeless initiative.

Include Key Stakeholders in Your Team

After you’ve assembled a leadership team, it’s time to flesh out your MPIT. HUD suggests that you seek out additional representation, such as:

  • State and local governments, including community development agencies and housing finance agencies;
  • Relevant local private lenders/equity investors;
  • Multifamily property owners;
  • Public housing authorities;
  • Human services providers;
  • Veteran organizations; and/or
  • Philanthropic partners.

Bottom line: If you’re considering adopting a homeless preference, be sure to do your homework. You’ll need to know what the preference means for your existing waiting list, how to alter your current Tenant Selection Plan, how to implement a homeless preference and obtain approval from HUD, and more, Hixon says.

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About Sarah Terry
Sarah is a writer and editor with 13 years of experience in online and print publishing. She specializes in covering highly regulated industries, including healthcare, public housing, and banking. She is currently editor of the compliance publication Assisted Housing Alert.