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City aims to add more housing funds quickly

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

With $2 million in rental subsidies still streaming into the community from last year’s budget, city of Albuquerque officials are deciding how to spend another $2 million meant to move people from homelessness to housing.

And this time they have a much more aggressive timeline.

Albuquerque Family and Community Services Department leaders say they hope by January to ink contracts with eight nonprofit partners that would help distribute the latest $2 million supportive housing appropriation. That money – part of the budget the City Council approved last month – should provide an estimated 135 households with a year’s worth of housing vouchers. The city plans to emphasize support for young adults, families with children and individuals most susceptible to COVID-19 complications due to age or health.

Lisa Huval, the city’s deputy director for housing and homelessness, said COVID-19 means the city can use its emergency contracting process to expedite the partnerships and that she hopes the selected providers have a running start by the time the signatures are dry.

“As we’re working on developing contracts with (the agencies), we’re going to be asking people to begin lining up potential participants so as soon as that contract is executed, they can begin working with folks to get them housed,” Huval told the City Council on Monday.

The city estimates that about 5,000 Albuquerque households experience homelessness in a given year.

Council President Pat Davis had previously expressed frustration about how long it was taking the city to distribute $2 million in housing voucher money the council had – at Mayor Tim Keller’s request – approved for the last fiscal year.

The city used last year’s $2 million to start a new housing voucher program, something Huval said took time. After a monthslong procurement and negotiation process, the city signed agreements with two nonprofit providers, Barrett Foundation and HopeWorks, that spread the voucher spending over three years. By the end of the fiscal year, less than $100,000 had reached the community.

Huval said both contractors are still on pace to meet their obligations. About a year into their agreements, they have issued 55 vouchers out of the combined 172 the program is expected to fund, she said.

But the city is intentionally trying to move faster with the new assistance.

“We really heard from our community that our community wanted to see us house as many people as quickly as we could, and … we feel that too – how important that is right now being in a pandemic where it is really hard to shelter at home when you don’t have a home,” Huval said in an interview. “We also share that goal of getting folks housed as quickly as possible.”

Spreading the voucher administration among eight providers instead of two also helps the process move faster, she said. The new contracts would be for 18 months.

Huval and Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce outlined the plan during this week’s council meeting.

Huval explained that it would target specific populations: individuals ages 16-24 who may be in transitional housing but could use support to branch out on their own, and the individuals and families currently staying in “wellness” motels used as a pandemic alternative for some who might otherwise stay at the city’s homeless shelter on the far West Side. The motels, for example, house individuals vulnerable to COVID-19 complications and families with young children who need more reliable internet access for communication and remote learning. Some of the money will also go to small, community-based providers who serve individuals who do not normally access services like the city shelter.

Several councilors complimented the initiative. Councilor Diane Gibson said it seemed “very logical and workable,” while Isaac Benton called it a “smart way” to get the money out.

Davis also commended the department staff for swift action.

“I think this is the right direction and, for what it’s worth, I appreciate that some of this money could be out into the community … by the first of the year hopefully,” he said.

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