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Vogel: Housing Rentention Program

The Burlington Housing Authority or BHA has embarked on a bold experiment. As part of its commitment to end homelessness, BHA has created a housing retention program that focuses on preventing homelessness. Like many Public Housing Authorities, most of their work centers on housing low income individuals and families by administering federal rental assistance programs and managing the more than 600 units that it owns. But BHA believes that receiving a rental subsidy is not enough to ensure that a family can achieve permanent, stable housing. Many low income individuals and families require support to deal with issues like addiction, financial budgeting, hoarding, job readiness, and challenges that are age-related.

Providing that support - to help prevent families from losing their housing and becoming homeless - is the goal of the Housing Retention Program.

BHA’s team of retention specialists have developed techniques and tools to help intervene effectively when a family appears to be struggling – or facing a crisis that might cause them to lose their rent subsidy and get evicted.

BHA’s Executive Director, Allyson Laackman, explains that the social impact and costs associated with eviction and homelessness are devastating, especially when children are involved.

Even from a purely economic standpoint, a number of studies have shown that it’s more costly to provide support to the homeless, such as healthcare through hospital emergency rooms, than to provide permanent housing.

But as with most new initiatives, there are no existing programs set up to fund the BHA staff that works on the retention program or their social service partners.

In my view, the best mechanism would be for the Federal Government to provide funding for these retention services, much of which would be paid back through lower turnover. HUD is currently providing this kind of funding in some of its housing subsidy programs for Veterans.

Until a single source of financing can be found, BHA is committed to scramble to find funding for this work through grants, gifts and State programs. They’re also undertaking more rigorous data collection and analysis to document the effectiveness of this program.

And most importantly, the Burlington Housing Authority is determined to continue the retention program and continue to help dozens of at-risk families each year, to remain in their homes and rebuild their lives.

John Vogel is a retired professor from the Tuck School of Business. His tenure at Dartmouth began in 1992, where he taught Real Estate and Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector, among other subjects. He was named by the “Business Week Guide” to Business Schools as one of Tuck’s “Outstanding Faculty” members.
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