Assembling outside City Hall recently, activists called on Mayor Brandon Scott to take advantage of the influx of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to fund specific homelessness and housing programs.
Yesterday Scott stood with one of those activists to announce that $75 million from Baltimore’s share of the ARPA Covid-19 relief money will be used for the programs they lobbied for, including the purchase of two hotels to provide 275 beds of non-congregate emergency housing.
Other uses for the funding include: an accelerator fund to increase the supply of permanent supportive housing, incentives for landlords to increase access to safe affordable housing and rental assistance, and case management services for people exiting the hotels where they have been housed amid the pandemic using FEMA funding.
The funding is to come out of the $641 million President Biden allocated to Baltimore last March.
An additional $15.4 million for homeless services, made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was included as part of yesterday’s announcement.
Scott said deploying Covid-related funding for these purposes is appropriate considering the blow the coronavirus has dealt to Baltimore’s already-vulnerable residents.
“The pandemic has exacerbated short- and long-term housing loss in our communities,” he said, speaking at the former Greenspring Middle School in northwest Baltimore, which is being phased out as a men’s shelter.
Pandemic a Turning Point
Advocates have been pushing for the city to de-emphasize the use of group living spaces for shelters because of the increased risk of coronavirus transmission in such congregate spaces.
“We cannot be safe in the congregate living shelters,” Mark Council, a member of the Lived Experience Advisory Committee, said at the funding announcement.
“These proposals are a must. This is something that we really need.”
Irene Agustin, director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services (MOHS), said the pandemic has demonstrated how, “as a community and as a nation, we have to do things differently.”
“Providing stable, permanent housing provides the most effective means to prevent and mitigate the spread of Covid-19 among people experiencing homelessness, while also providing a platform to other positive health, educational and economic outcomes that make maintaining housing easier,” Agustin said.
“Housing ends homelessness,” she continued, “and this federal funding is the catalyst needed to transform the homeless response system of Baltimore city.”
“City is catching on”
The funding announcement was the product of a consultant-led planning process leading to a Strategic Investment Plan that officials said they will release in the coming weeks.
Stakeholders in the plan include city departments, the Continuum of Care, non-profit organizations, philanthropic groups and people with lived experience of homelessness, Agustin said.
The programs receiving funding were priorities of a coalition of housing advocates who have said they were hoping the city would provide them with a larger injection of ARPA money, roughly $126 million.
“It’s not everything that we asked for, but at least the city is catching on that this is a desperate need to get money to the homeless population,” said Council, a lead organizer with Housing Our Neighbors.
“It’s not everything that we asked for, but at least the city is catching on that this is a desperate need” – Mark Council of Housing Our Neighbors.
“It would be a win-win to get vacant houses used, to get people off the street – nobody wants to be there,” said Council, speaking today with The Brew.
“People lose their dignity when they’re homeless. These are people who in a lot of cases helped build this city. Are we just going to turn our backs on them?”
Among the projects to receive funding:
• Non-congregate emergency housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. Will cover the acquisition of two hotels, including renovation and operating support for non-congregate emergency housing. (The city has not yet identified which hotels it will purchase, MOHS officials say.)
• Help for residents who have been housed in hotels. This includes rental assistance and case management services for individuals who resided in hotels. (The FEMA-funded program ends next month.)
• Housing navigation and landlord recruitment support. To reduce the length of time people experience homelessness, funds will be used to help individuals find affordable housing and provide incentives to landlords to increase access to housing units.
• Housing Accelerator Fund. To increase the supply of permanent supportive housing units.
• Flexible Fund for Diversion and Rapid Resolution. Short-term rental assistance that will prevent people from entering shelter or help them more rapidly exit shelters. (Because of their similarity, the proposed Homelessness Diversion and Rapid Resolutions funds were combined.)
In addition, HUD’s HOME program awarded Baltimore $15.4 million in ARPA funds it received.
A spokeswoman said MOHS has identified capital uses for the HOME-ARPA funds, which are administered by the city Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
These include acquisition, construction, rehabilitation and associated soft costs needed to develop permanent supportive housing as a priority investment, according to public information officer Kyana Underwood.