Uncertainty for housing seekers amid rapidly changing guidance

Donovan Henry was relaxing in his Long Beach motel room on Wednesday when he received a panicked text message.

It was from his clerk at the nonprofit NoHo Housing Alliance. And it said the county announced that all federal emergency housing vouchers, like the one it was issued last summer, would be suspended on Jan. 31.

If he didn’t find a place to live by the end of this month, he would start looking for affordable housing all over again. Henry – who has lived mostly on the streets for the past two years and is only temporarily staying in a motel thanks to a winter shelter program – figured he would soon be homeless again.

“I’ve been desperately trying to find someone to accept my voucher since July and had no luck. Hearing now that he can no longer be used from the 31st was extremely upsetting,” said the 52-year-old. “So now I’m waiting to find out if I have to start the whole process all over again.”

Emlio Salas, executive director of the Los Angeles County Development Authority, says that’s not necessary.

After telling service providers earlier last week that all outstanding emergency housing vouchers (EHVs) would be suspended, the agency issued a new notice on Friday, a day after the Los Angeles Times first asked about the policy, in which she brought back the move.

Salas said in a phone interview Friday that EHV holders who can find affordable housing to move into are now being accommodated in alternative ways — including standard Section 8 vouchers and a Los Angeles Continuum of Care program — and that they aren’t new to the Byzantine have to start the application process for an apartment.

“Today we are issuing a new notice to these individuals and households that we will provide them with a different rent subsidy,” he said. “Any individual securing a unit.”

The initial announcement, which struck fear in the hearts of homeless voucher holders like Henry, was actually the result of a success story for LACDA and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s emergency shelter voucher program.

In July 2021, HUD issued 70,000 EHVs to US housing authorities, including 1,964 to LACDA. more than a year later, only 641, or 32.6% of them, were “rented” or “rented”. That means the people they were issued to “have secured an entity and entered into a fully executed lease, a contractual agreement with the property owner,” Salas said.

Now, six months later, all 1,964 vouchers have been rented, according to Salas. In other words, 1,964 individuals or families across the county who were issued the vouchers have moved into homes where rent is heavily subsidized by the federal government, or have signed the appropriate paperwork and will be moving in soon.

The problem, however, is that the county has issued well over 1,964 emergency shelter vouchers. HUD data shows the county has issued 5,124 federal vouchers since July 2021, a tactic similar to how airlines overbook flights to ensure every seat is filled.

The idea, Salas said, is that many people might not be able to find affordable housing to move into due to LA’s tough housing market and landlords’ reluctance to rent to people with bad credit, previous evictions and other common characteristics among EHV owners.

“You always have to spend too many coupons to get the goal you want to get,” he said. “Otherwise it takes twice as long. We will not issue 1,964 coupons and stop there because we know from historical data that not everyone will find a unit.”

But that left 3,160 people who held vouchers who were suddenly told last week that they would soon be useless. This initial communication from LACDA announcing the suspension of EHV caused unnecessary concern and suspicion among voucher holders, according to Tara Jones, a case worker at the NoHo Home Alliance who works with homeless people, including many who were issued the vouchers.

“I love what they say and I hope what they say is true,” she said. “With that in mind, the process by which people acquire EHVs and find these units is so arduous, so overwhelming and so difficult that it’s really unsettling to throw this at them — even though hopefully it will end well.”

While she understands the county’s reasoning for overissuing EHVs, Jones said LACDA should have waited until alternative funding sources were in place before announcing the suspension of existing coupons.

“The whole concept of overselling the vouchers is difficult to explain to a person affected by homelessness. It’s not an airfield; it’s someone’s life,” she said.

“They were devastated and felt like they ticked all the boxes they were told to secure that coupon and they felt lucky… and for it to be taken away from them, a lot of people thought, ‘That’s why I trust not the system.'”

Meanwhile, some people who have been issued EHVs by the city of LA have heard rumors that their coupons have also been suspended. In an email Friday, Carlos VanNatter, director of Division 8 for the City of Los Angeles Housing Department, said that was not the case: “HACLA’s EHV program does not end on January 31. … Our program will continue.”

Henry said he was distraught when he received the text from his clerk last Wednesday. After months of exhaustive apartment searching — calling landlords, sending out applications, paying application fees, knocking on doors — he thought he was back where he started. Now, he said, he doesn’t know what to think.

“I was immediately very concerned, how am I going to find a place in a week and possibly do the paperwork?” he said.

“Will it be another year before I’m housed? Nobody can say how long it will take. I keep my fingers crossed and I hope.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-01-30/they-were-devastated-emotional-rollercoaster-for-housing-seekers-amid-rapidly-changing-county Uncertainty for housing seekers amid rapidly changing guidance

Alley Einstein

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