$7.5 million to keep a roof over their heads

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The District will begin disbursing about $7.5 million in federal stimulus money this week to put homeless families back in housing and help those struggling to remain in their homes, city officials said Monday.

City housing officials say the money will help 680 to 800 D.C. households. The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program funds, awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in July, will help some families pay overdue rent and others pay past-due utility bills. Homeless families could receive a rent subsidy for up to 18 months.

At a news conference in Southeast Washington, where many families have lost their homes, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said the city will use the program to respond "to urgent housing needs in the District. We look forward to supporting District residents' efforts to secure safe and comfortable homes."

Only families with the lowest incomes will qualify.

Laura Zeilinger, assistant director of the Department of Human Services, said the program is a new tool that allows the city to help low-income people who would otherwise become homeless. Before this week, a family of three had to have an income of $22,800 or less to qualify for assistance. Now, a family of three's income can be nearly $30,000 and still qualify for help.

To guard against fraud, HUD issued guidelines that require the city to "evaluate and certify the eligibility of participants . . . at least once every three months," preferably through written documentation from an employer, the Social Security Administration or welfare officials, according to its Web site. HUD will also allow verification by telephone from at least one of the three.

The city's nonprofit subcontractors are also some of its largest shelter providers: Catholic Charities' Southeast Family Center, Community of Hope, the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness and Housing Counseling Services.

The Archdiocese of Washington, which operates Catholic Charities, recently said it might be forced to discontinue delivering services on the city's behalf if the D.C. Council approves a same-sex marriage bill.

The Department of Human Services, which helps keep city homeless shelters operating with about $40 million in service contracts, will manage the program. About $2.4 million will put people who lost their jobs and homes into housing. DHS has set aside more than $1.9 million for rental subsidies that can continue for nearly two years.

An additional $1 million has been allocated for families at risk of losing their homes -- $750,000 for past-due rent; $50,000 to help with overdue water, sewage, garbage collection, heat and electricity bills; and $240,000 for use for the first month's rent and security deposit on rental housing. Families are eligible for up to $6,500 in assistance related to homelessness prevention, while individuals can receive up to $5,000, according to a statement from the city.

DHS has $1.4 million more to pay caseworkers and other staff to ensure that families accepted into the program remain in housing with services and counseling. Housing Counseling Services will receive $80,000 to help families in their search for housing.

In addition to homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing, DHS will provide counseling and search assistance to households struggling to manage payments or find appropriate housing. About $80,000 will be used for counseling heads of household and helping them search for homes.

Tenants with landlord disputes can tap into $375,000 for legal services.

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