Homeless people in the Lafayette area have few options for permanent housing, and extensive waiting lists for the subsidized housing that does exist typically don’t look at whether prospective tenants already have a place to live.
Apartment complexes that have subsidized housing units may be designated for the elderly or veterans, or may have been built with federal financing contingent on reserving a certain number of units for affordable housing.
But waiting lists are on a first come, first serve basis, and can take three years, said Leigh Rachal, executive director of the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness and Housing, or ARCH.
“So in the mean time what is (a homeless) person to do while they are on the street or in a shelter?” Rachal said.
A new partnership between ARCH and the Lafayette Housing Authority aims to create a direct pathway from the street to a home. The idea is for ARCH, which refers people in need to service providers, to direct certain individuals and families to the housing authority, which can provide a priority rental voucher.
The Lafayette Housing Authority already prioritizes the homeless, along with others in particularly vulnerable circumstances, when accepting applicants to its rental voucher program. But those eligible to take advantage of this benefit usually connect with the housing authority through random chance, on the informal guidance of someone in the know.
The housing authority, meanwhile, has no way to verify whether homeless people seeking priority status are, in fact, homeless. With the new agreement, the housing authority’s priority vouchers for the homeless will go exclusively to people referred from ARCH, which will in turn monitor their progress.
“It’s a much more targeted approach,” said Yvonda Bean, the housing authority’s executive director.
Not that the agreement wipes out the burden of wait lists, however. Through the agreement, the housing authority will designate up to 50 vouchers for homeless people, but that doesn’t mean they are immediately available.
Renters in the Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly referred to as Section 8, typically pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities, with HUD-funded vouchers administered through housing authorities covering the remainder.
The housing authority can only fund a certain number of vouchers, and there is a closed waiting list of more than 200 applicants, Bean said. But that’s down from about 1,000 when Bean took her position in November 2016, once HUD returned the housing authority to local control after five years of receivership.
Bean said she’s been gradually purging the waiting list of people who no longer need or want vouchers, adding that it will be trimmed enough to open in about six weeks. At present, the waiting list is about equal to the number of homeless individuals and families that ARCH recently counted in its annual "point in time" tally of homeless people.
Rachal said 236 homeless households — either individuals or families — were counted in shelters or in places not meant for human habitation, such as the street or a car.
When the housing authority waiting list opens, homeless people referred through ARCH will move up the list more quickly than others.
“There is no illusion that the next day a voucher will be available,” said Rachal of ARCH. “But there is a much more direct path.”