BY DOUG SMITHSENIOR WRITER AUG. 16, 2023 5 AM PT
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Los Angeles officials are celebrating the demise of one of their biggest obstacles to getting homeless people into permanent housing: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requirements that keep applicants waiting for months while their assigned apartments remain vacant.
Responding to pleas from Mayor Karen Bass and city and county housing officials, HUD has agreed to exempt local housing providers from the rules that required applicants to produce identification and document their homeless status and income before moving into their apartments.
Instead, applicants can now move in first and then assemble the necessary documents—a process that often takes months for those living on the streets.
Bass, whose Inside Safe program to clean up encampments around the city has filled shelters with thousands of people but has managed to obtain permanent homes for fewer than 200, said the waiver will allow the city to take advantage of hundreds of units that are vacant because of the prequalification rules.
“This addresses major roadblocks to moving Angelenos from interim housing in motels to permanent housing, putting housing first and bureaucracy last,” Bass said in a statement to The Times. “For too long, the system responded to unhoused Angelenos with a 30+ page questionnaire asking for proof that they were low income instead of with the housing they need. People should not be left in motels, tiny homes, or A Bridge Home housing because of paperwork.”
The change has long been sought by housing providers who have wrestled, with only limited success, to speed up the leasing of subsidized apartments that become vacant when their occupants die or move out. Historically, when a unit became available, a person who met the criteria for that particular unit — veteran, senior, physically disabled person, etc. — would be matched to it from a waiting list and then begin the documentation process.
That could require getting a new driver’s license and Social Security card, documenting income from general relief or Supplemental Security Income and proving legal residency and status as homeless. All that often takes months. And efforts to qualify applicants before matching them to an apartment proved challenging because applicants so often lost the documents while waiting.
The change is “a complete leap forward,” said Sarah Dusseault, a former commissioner of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority who led an effort to speed up the process by building a list of prequalified applicants.
“It absolutely didn’t solve the problem,” Dusseault said. “We couldn’t get at the volume. Even with the fixes we were trying to make years ago, there still was a bottleneck. This relieves a large chunk of the bottleneck.”
The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Development Authority jointly asked the federal housing agency for the waiver in March. Bass followed up in May with a letter specifying five specific changes that “will drastically expedite the leasing process and allow the city and its partners to make full use of all the federal resources dedicated to fighting homelessness in the immediate term.”
Richard Monocchio, principal deputy assistant secretary of HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing, said the agency agreed in July to allow a waiver on the Social Security, residency and homelessness requirements but left the income prequalification intact.
The two housing authorities then appealed on Aug. 4, Monocchio said, contending that “the scope of this problem is such with the folks in the encampments and the motels that it wasn’t really feasible to get this information on income eligibility before the person moved in.”
Bass appealed directly to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge.
“In light of the safety of the residents and helping the city to house people in a timelier fashion, we decided to allow what you would call presumptive eligibility,” Monocchio said.
HUD informed the city this week that it would also waive the income requirement and allow 60 days after a person moves in to complete the verification. A confirmation letter is on the way, he said.
“I want to thank Secretary Fudge, who I’ve worked with on this issue, for her fearless advocacy,” Bass said.
HUD did not grant an additional request from the housing agencies to waive a requirement that they inspect each unit before its occupancy.
Monocchio said the agency lacks the authority to waive that requirement because it is mandated by Congress. The Biden administration has requested Congress to lift that restriction in the 2024 budget.
“We would definitely be open to considering this kind of waiver request in the future,” Monocchio said, but he thought the housing authorities would be able to conduct the inspections quickly because it is a priority.