The Butler County commissioners have approved a $1.3 million contract to support existing and additional vouchers to house and provide wrap-around support services to those experiencing homelessness and need care for mental health issues.
The Permanent Supportive Housing program — known locally as Shelter Plus Care — provides rental assistance and treatment for the homeless who also suffer from mental illness, the county currently has 63 vouchers and has been approved for 50 more.
The program is paid for with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dollars and the county has to apply for the extra vouchers through the state. A year ago they asked for 100 more vouchers, but Development Director David Fehr told the Journal-News the state found the request a little ambitious.
“The state came back and said we are only going to grant you the 50,” Fehr said. “I guess they felt it was too much at one time. They said we’ll give you 50 more and you can always ask for more at a later date.”
Mindy Muller, president and CEO of Community Development Professionals, has been administering the federal program for the county for 15 years. She told the Journal-News the process to get the new vouchers deployed has a taken a year and they should be able to get the new program participants housed next month.
She said the existing 63 vouchers are covering the cost for 72 housing units because the grant recipients must pay 30% of their income toward their own rent. The $1.3 million covers $1.1 million for rent, $112,889 in administrative costs and $75,510 for wrap-around support services from local behavioral health providers.
Participants may choose where they want to live as long as landlords are amenable and eligible under HUD rules. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said “this is considered scattered housing” and asked whether there has been a “pattern” where the participants are locating.
“People largely have chosen to live in the larger urban areas, so Middletown and Hamilton are the areas with the most affordable units and that’s where people tend to go,” Muller said. “They often need public transportation; that’s where it’s most readily available. They need social services those are the areas where they’re mostly available.”
When the commissioners agreed to apply for the 100 vouchers last summer, Commissioner Don Dixon agreed to apply for the vouchers but expressed deep concerns about the program and the concentration of homeless in Hamilton and Middletown.
“I’m sympathetic to the issue, you talk about being concerned about the person we’re trying to place in there, I’m concerned about the people who live there,” Dixon said at the time. “I also had a conversation with the city manager in Hamilton and he reminded me that these kind of particular placements cause a lot of expense on the city’s safety services, more calls, more ambulances, more disturbance.”
According to the 2019 point in time homeless count — which was the last available — there were 166 people in emergency shelters, 86 unsheltered people and 46 in transitional housing for a total 298. The point in time count is when the homeless living on the streets are counted on a given night in January, as mandated by HUD.
Muller told the Journal-News they have “tentatively” signed up more landlords who are willing to accept these renters.
“We have been proactive in trying to find landlords that don’t know anything about this that live in other parts of the county, and trying to educate them and let them know how they could participate in the program,” Muller said. “We have grown the list of potential landlords that are inclusive of other parts of county outside of Middletown and Hamilton.”
The county is also preparing to release a request for proposals on spending a $3.1 million windfall out of federal pandemic rescue funds to help the homeless.
Every year the county receives HOME Investment Partnerships Program funding from HUD usually in the neighborhood of $1 million. Last year in addition to that bucket of money the county was allocated $3.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act HOME funding.
HUD required the county to undertake a housing study as part of this grant award. The commissioners hired Harsany & Associates to shepherd the project and the recommendation by a coalition of stakeholders was to build 32 permanent supportive housing units.
Fehr told the Journal-News as they have been preparing the RFQ specifications they have been concentrating on some concerns voiced by the commissioners.
“It’s been about sustainability, once we build these units who’s going to maintain them, I think there’s been questions from the perspective of are these going to be scatter sites, what the local communities want to see, do they want this type of housing in their community,” Fehr said. “Those were the type of questions we’re trying to get feedback on from the local communities.”