Section 811: A New Tool for Preventing and Ending Homelessness

Section 811: A New Tool for Preventing and Ending Homelessness

Gretchen Locke

Beginning in 2013, HUD has moved Section 811 — a housing program for low income people with disabilities — to a model called Project Rental Assistance (PRA) that makes it more likely to serve people who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness.

Historically, participants entered the Section 811 program for very low income, non-elderly people with disabilities through referrals from service organizations. People experiencing homelessness have not typically been linked into those service streams, so Section 811 did not play a major role in strategies for ending chronic homelessness.

The Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) targeted the PRA program to extremely low income applicants and now specifically mentions people experiencing homelessness as a potential target population. Several of the states that received the first two rounds of program funding in FY2012 and FY2015 are focusing on people with disabilities who are leaving homelessness or are at high risk of becoming homeless.

The new program model for Section 811 also has a stronger link to community-based services funded by Medicaid. In order to be eligible to apply for grant funding, a state housing agency must have a memorandum of understanding with the state Medicaid agency, in which both parties agree to jointly provide affordable housing (through the Section 811 program) and the services that people want and need to sustain their housing and their health (through Medicaid).

This is in effect a scattered-site form of project-based permanent supportive housing. Owners of affordable housing properties, often financed by Low Income Housing Tax Credits, agree to rent no more than 25 percent of the property’s units to people with disabilities. This cap applies to units both for those who are eligible for the PRA program and to units set aside for other people who have disabilities through other programs.  The owner receives a rent subsidy for each unit occupied by a program participant.

Abt Associates has been contracted by HUD to lead an evaluation of the Section 811 Project Rental Assistance Demonstration Program, looking at health and quality of life outcomes among participants as the program ramps up and more people get into housing. While we won’t have findings for some time, this evaluation should prove to be an interesting opportunity to look at whether this program is meeting the needs of a vulnerable group of people and to develop further insights into the link between housing and health.