Housing locator initiative seeks to reduce homelessness

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County government has cast five-digit financial support to a partnership structured to reduce homelessness in Delaware through housing “location.”

County Council during its final meeting of 2018 on Dec. 12 committed upward of $35,000 as the county’s match for Home4Good, a housing locator program funded through partnership between the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh and the Delaware State Housing Authority.

Home4Good helps those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness by channeling dollars to local service organizations that know how to help.

“The housing locator project is very different from the housing search program that is online,” said Marie Morole, Executive Director of the Sussex Community Crisis Housing Services. “The housing locator would go out and find the hidden housing market. There are a lot of different types of housing. There are rooms, there is mobiles, there is some kind of cooperative housing that these landlords do not put online. They are not required to provide this information on the online service.”

Susan Eliason, DSHA’s Director of Housing Development, told council the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh made the decision last year to earmark some of its their earnings specifically for homelessness in their service area, which is Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.

“They have set aside $5 million for this effort, $700,000 of which comes to Delaware. DSHA has taken our funds of $500,000 to match that to put $1.2 million out here. We had set-asides for rapid rehousing, homelessness diversion, homelessness prevention and innovation category,” said Ms. Eliason.

It was for innovation that the crisis house made the application.

“One of the innovative ideas that the Homeless Housing Alliance of Delaware wanted to have in innovation is a housing locator, because finding readily available housing for people who are experiencing short-term homelessness is a significant barrier,” said Ms. Eliason.

Funding was awarded through the Home4Good Program. “They are looking for matching funds,” Ms. Eliason said.

County council members Rob Arlett, Irwin “I.G.” Burton, Samuel Wilson Jr., George Cole and Michael Vincent voted in support of committing $35,000 to the program.

Aja White, Housing Alliance Delaware’s CoC (Continuum of Care) program manager, said the Home4Good partnership is a membership body of organizations and providers dedicated to addressing homelessness in Delaware.

“In 2017, we developed an action plan to end homelessness. We have a lot of goals and priorities we are working on, but one of those is to leverage other resources to increase the effectiveness of our existing housing program, which is known as Rapid Rehousing,” said Ms. White. “Rapid Rehousing is a short-term rental assistance program which major components: find, pay, stay. Find housing, pay for housing, stay in housing.”

“The first piece of that and the critical piece is finding the housing, which is why a housing locator is so necessary,” Ms. White said. “The housing locator, their job is focused solely on identifying available housing, networking with landlords and building those relationships so we can move people from homelessness to housing quickly. We are excited about this partnership.”

To gauge the homelessness number in Delaware, a point-in-time count is conducted annually. It averages around 1,100. “What we do is on a single night in January we go outdoors and count everyone sitting outside, everyone sleeping in shelter as well as those in Code Purple sites,” Ms. White said. “Last year that number was 1,182, with about 15 percent of that population being in Sussex County.”

According to Ms. Morole, the housing locator would try to develop different relationships with the hidden job market, through different presentations. “We would have events. We would engage civic and church groups looking for prospective landlords,” Ms. Morole said. “It would be a constant search and develop our own data base and website that other organizations throughout Sussex County could use. This just wouldn’t just benefit the Crisis House, it would be for all homeless providers in Sussex County.”

“Our residents and residents in a lot of the other shelters and different organizations don’t have the means or the ability to meet the requirements that some of these other housing landlords have. Through cooperation with the Rapid Rehousing programs they try to stimulate and offer perks to the landlords who would be able to get many of the homeless in permanent housing,” Ms. Morole said. “The project will increase the hidden rental market and make it available to a segment of the population that doesn’t possess the ability or means to search in conventional or existing markets.”

“The ‘hidden guys,’ do they want to be found?” asked Mr. Burton.

“I think so,” said Ms. Morole. “I think it’s just that they are out there, and they don’t have the means to get their information out and we don’t have the means to go out and find them. We don’t have the staff available to go out and search. So, with this housing locator, that would be their prime object to go out and find these different housing opportunities. Like when you are riding around, you’ll see a sign in a front yard that says, ‘Room available for rent.’ Our residents don’t see that; they don’t drive, where the housing locator is going to drive neighborhoods throughout all of Sussex County, not just Georgetown.”

“So, you would go to that guy with a sign and say, ‘Hey, how about getting on our site?’” Mr. Burton inquired.

The answer, Ms. Morole said is yes, adding, “What can we do to make this work for both of us?”

This is a one-time grant request.

It was reviewed by Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings, who further reviewed it with Brandy Nauman, Sussex County’s Fair Housing Compliance Officer “to see to how fits with the community development program. We do other emergency housing, and things like that. We do have the funds that we could use,” Ms. Jennings said.

“It does support a lot of the objectives and strategies we outlined in the comprehensive plan that was just approved,” said Ms. Nauman. “And it does support the Delaware Housing Search website that you all fund every year as well.”

Mr. Burton asked how much of the total $1.2 million would come to Delaware.

“Home4Good was offered statewide,” Ms. Eliason said. “There were awards made to agencies that provide homeless services statewide. Specifically, I believe it is the YWCA that is going to be able providing homeless services in Kent and Sussex counties. The program is designed for statewide. This is one of the only grants specifically to Sussex County this year.”


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