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Rep. Maxine Waters unveils landmark legislation to end homelessness in America

March 24, 2016

Bill would provide $13.27 billion in emergency relief over five years

by Danielle Parnass

Washington, March 23, 2016 – Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., ranking member of the Committee on Financial Services, introduced landmark legislation that would provide significant resources to end homelessness in America. The measure is a bold effort to declare what is really needed to address this crisis.

Sharon Jasper, leader of the “Bring the People Home” movement to allow 4,500 New Orleans families to return to their perfectly livable public housing apartments after Katrina, most untouched by the flood, discusses strategy with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the only member of Congress who devoted herself to enabling poor New Orleanians to recover. Despite their brilliant and valiant efforts, public housing was almost entirely demolished in New Orleans. In the years since then, city after city has privatized and/or demolished its public housing, driving thousands of residents – families, the elderly and the disabled – into homelessness.

Sharon Jasper, leader of the “Bring the People Home” movement to allow 4,500 New Orleans families to return to their perfectly livable public housing apartments after Katrina, most untouched by the flood, discusses strategy with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the only member of Congress who devoted herself to enabling poor New Orleanians to recover. Despite their brilliant and valiant efforts, public housing was almost entirely demolished in New Orleans. In the years since then, city after city has privatized and/or demolished its public housing, driving thousands of residents – families, the elderly and the disabled – into homelessness.

The legislation provides $13.27 billion in new funding over five years to several programs and initiatives that will help the nearly 600,000 Americans who are currently homeless – over 170,000 of whom are unsheltered, over 83,000 of whom are chronically homeless, and nearly 130,000 of whom are under the age of 18. These new resources will provide access to both housing and supportive services to help the homeless achieve safe, decent and affordable housing as well as long-term, positive life outcomes.

“It is all too common to hear members on both sides of the aisle express their concerns about the homeless, but it takes more than sympathy to address this issue; it takes robust resources,” Rep. Waters said. “That is why today I introduced a bill that will finally provide the funds necessary to end homelessness in this country. For far too long, we have lacked the resources to help all of those in need, and I urge my colleagues to support this bill if they are serious about achieving this goal.”

“It is simply shameful that there are nearly 600,000 homeless people living on the streets in the richest country in the world,” Rep. Waters continued. “But this is not an insurmountable problem. We know how to end homelessness in America; what is lacking is the political will to put the necessary resources behind the solutions we know will work.”

“It is all too common to hear members on both sides of the aisle express their concerns about the homeless, but it takes more than sympathy to address this issue; it takes robust resources,” Rep. Waters said.

The measure, entitled “The Ending Homelessness Act of 2016,” is designed as an emergency relief bill that would provide immediate funding to address homelessness in America, targeting those areas where homelessness has reached crisis proportions. This approach is similar to other emergency relief and recovery bills that provided critical funding during the height of a crisis, including the Hurricane Katrina emergency relief funding bills of 2005 and the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.

Rep. Waters’ legislation includes the following funding amounts over and above what is already annually provided for these existing U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs:

  • $5 billion in McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants funding, with a significant portion of the funding targeted for chronically homeless individuals and families, which is expected to fund approximately 85,000 new permanent supportive housing units;
  • $2.5 billion for special purpose Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV), which is expected to provide affordable housing for homeless families, youth and individuals on an ongoing basis and create an additional 295,000-300,000 subsidized HCV units;
  • $1.05 billion annually in mandatory spending dedicated to the National Housing Trust Fund, which in the first five years of funding is expected to create approximately 25,000 new units affordable to extremely low-income households, ensuring that rents are affordable for tenants;
  • $500 million in outreach funding to ensure that homeless people are connected to the resources they need; and
  • $20 million in technical assistance funding to help states and localities align health and housing systems.

Homelessness within major cities, which accounts for 48 percent of all homeless people in the United States, increased by 3 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to HUD’s most recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. Homelessness in many major cities has reached crisis proportions, causing some to declare that homelessness has reached a state of emergency.

“In Los Angeles County alone, homelessness increased by a staggering 20 percent between 2014 and 2015,” Rep. Waters said. “We all remember how, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Congress came together in a bipartisan way to provide emergency funding to address the dire needs of New Orleanians.

“I believe that it is time for Democrats and Republicans to come together in that same bipartisan spirit to also help homeless Americans, many of whom only became homeless as a result of the housing crisis.”

Homelessness in many major cities has reached crisis proportions, causing some to declare that homelessness has reached a state of emergency.

According to the HUD report, there were approximately 407,000 homeless households in 2015. This measure would provide an estimated 405,000-410,000 units of deeply affordable housing for homeless individuals, families and youth.

The bill is supported by organizations including the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the National Low Income Housing Coalition:

“We can solve the problem of homelessness, and save taxpayers money, by investing in Housing First interventions that get homeless people housed quickly and keep them housed,” says National Alliance to End Homelessness Vice President for Programs and Policy Steve Berg. “The Ending Homelessness Act of 2016 would do that and more.

“It would provide communities with the help they need to end chronic homelessness, and bring full circle the work of President Obama, President George W. Bush and members of Congress from both parties. This bill shows that Rep. Waters, like other leaders in Congress and in the White House, understands that having a severe mental illness or other disability should never condemn an American to sleeping on the streets and eating out of trash cans.”

National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Sheila Crowley declares: “The National Low Income Housing Coalition enthusiastically supports Rep. Maxine Waters’ bold new bill that tackles the unacceptably high levels of homelessness in our country. The ‘Ending Homelessness Act of 2016’ proposes considerable new resources for the only answer to homelessness – affordable housing.

“There is ample evidence of the high cost of homelessness to communities and health care and criminal justice services, but most of all to the well-being of people who lose their homes. The toll that homelessness takes on the health, mental health and education of children is immense. We can afford to end homelessness; we can’t afford not to.”

Follow the links to read the legislation, an executive summary and the section-by-section analysis.

National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Sheila Crowley declares: “The ‘Ending Homelessness Act of 2016’ proposes considerable new resources for the only answer to homelessness – affordable housing.”

The measure will be referred to the House Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Waters has sent a letter urging Chairman Hensarling to support the legislation and reiterating her request for a series of hearing on the state of homelessness in America.

Ranking Member Waters has been a leader in combatting homelessness, fighting tirelessly to bring more attention to this issue and particularly the need for more funding. Most recently, she called on Congress to increase funding for federal housing programs through the annual appropriations process.

Previously, she led Committee Democrats in requesting that Financial Services Chairman Hensarling hold hearings on ending homelessness. The chairman has yet to respond to or act upon the request. Additionally, she hosted a Capitol Hill briefing with activist, actor and philanthropist Richard Gere as well as housing experts on the crisis of homelessness in America.

Danielle Parnass can be reached at Danielle.Parnass@mail.house.gov.

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Filed Under: California and the U.S.
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