2017 Semifinalist
District of Columbia
January 1, 2017

In 2008, the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) was awarded the first of several allotments of vouchers under the then new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, in response to a growing number of homeless veterans. The HUD-VASH program combines rental assistance via Housing Choice vouchers for homeless veterans with case management and clinical services. DCHA administers the housing component, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) through the Veterans' Affairs Medical Centers (VAMC) is responsible for identifying veterans to participate and providing case management and clinical services. Challenges became apparent early on. VAMC referrals to DCHA took five to six months and veterans waited an average of eight months to be processed and housed. Clients had difficulty providing required documentation and once vouchers were issued, it took up to five months to locate, approve and lease-up a unit. Challenges were twofold: it was taking longer than anticipated for VAMC to reach optimal case management staffing levels. In the meantime many clients struggled to navigate the process without someone to assist them and DCHA’s eligibility and housing processes for this program did not allow for a streamlined approach to processing veterans once referred to the agency. DCHA adapted to the challenges by tapping into the existing capacity of partner agencies and streamlining some of its own processes. DCHA developed the “DCHA-VASH Rapid Housing Model,” a nationally recognized best practice. Case management was the biggest challenge and vital to program success. To address it, DCHA facilitated a partnership between the city’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and VAMC, whereby DHS identified and referred a set number of homeless veteran clients to DCHA on behalf of the VAMC, assisted DCHA in locating landlords to rent units; and provided case management through their existing structure. DCHA utilized an existing DHS database technology to establish and jointly manage a database of DCHA pre-inspected and approved units targeted specifically to house chronically homeless veterans (many living under bridges or on our sidewalks). In addition, DCHA provided training for case managers at VAMC and DHS on its eligibility and documentation requirements for a more seamless veteran referral and eligibility process. DCHA also created the “Meet and Lease for Veterans.” The Meet and Lease is designed to bring together in one room, all landlords with available DCHA pre-inspected units for rent and homeless veterans with VASH vouchers searching for units. Since 2013, DCHA facilitated eight “Meet and Lease for Veterans” highly successful events in collaboration with public and private partners that has resulted in several hundred homeless veterans quickly securing housing - including  close to two hundred homeless veterans being able to come to an event and leaving with the keys to their new home the very same day. Before each event, DCHA reaches out to its private landlord partners to ask them to offer units for the veterans. DCHA then expedites a pre-inspection of each unit and pre-approves a contract rent with the landlords. Veterans are also offered opportunities to take a tour of the pre-inspected units. At many of the Meet and Lease events, DCHA partner organizations also provide additional services for the veterans such as security deposits, furniture, food services, free manicures and pedicures, grooming kits, moving expenses, employment (training and on the spot employment offers) as well as health services.