Housing Authorities: Key Partners Ending Homelessness in the Local Community

HABC Executive Director Lynn Bartlett

The Housing Authority of Bergen County Prioritizes Those Experiencing Homelessness

The Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

The Center is a shared project between Bergen County and the Housing Authority of Bergen County (HABC) and uses a collaborative approach to meet human services needs.

The center’s mission is to end homelessness by providing a full continuum of housing services including homelessness prevention, temporary emergency shelter, and connections to permanent placement. It serves as a one-stop location and single point of entry for homeless adults to receive information, care management, health and human services, and financial assistance. Efforts to place clients in permanent rental housing begin promptly after client assessment.

I recently spoke with HABC Executive Director Lynn Bartlett about the Housing Authority’s critical role in the work of the Center.

Bergen County announced its 10-year plan to end homelessness in 2008 and situated the housing authority at the plan’s core, according to Bartlett. From the outset, the HABC actively worked with Human Services Center staff to identify individuals experiencing homelessness who required support services in order to remain permanently housed – well before federal funding agencies mandated a prioritization list.  

HABC utilized its relationships with mental health and human service agencies to provide necessary support. This allowed households experiencing homelessness the opportunity to move in to their own apartments and provided assistance to formerly homeless households during times of financial difficulty so they would not be at risk of losing their housing.

“The authority is proud of the excellent relationships it has, and has maintained, with social service providers,” Bartlett said.

The HABC has housed over 1,300 individuals experiencing homelessness over the past 10 years, including all the county’s emergency shelters along with transitional housing, she said. These households have extremely low incomes – about 30 percent of the median income levels in Bergen County. Of those 1,300 individuals, 90 percent remain housed.

The annual point-in-time count of the homeless conducted by NJCounts on Jan. 21, 2019, found a total of 206 households, including 271 persons, were experiencing homelessness in Bergen County. According to NJCounts, 35.5 percent of households experiencing homelessness in Bergen County had no source of income and 72.5 percent of adults 18 or older who experience homelessness in the county report some type of disability.

“Partnering to provide services is key to helping these individuals remain housed,” Bartlett said. “The tenant-based assistance provide by the authority allows individuals and families to rent apartments they can afford in communities where they want to live – a true “housing first model.”

The non-profit real estate development arm of the authority also plays an important role in the solution. When new affordable housing is constructed, 25 percent of new units are set aside for households experiencing homelessness. Within the past 10 years, 78 affordable housing units have been constructed with 31 of these units set aside for those households.

The housing authority invested over $25 million in rental assistance in the past decade to house the homeless. More recent funding awards leveraged $3.5 million in supportive services. This significant level of investment leveraged towards successful outcomes has earned the agency accolades as a High-Performing Housing Authority from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The housing authority continues to meet core mission standards to provide rental assistance to applicants on all waiting lists. Notably, in 2018, it opened the waiting list for new applicants for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

The HABC is actively changing old perceptions of public housing authorities, according to Bartlett. It does so through smart utilization of resources, dedication to fulfill its mission, and by maintaining strong relationships with its partners.

“Most housing authorities have the genuine will to be good community partners,” says Bartlett, “it’s important to acknowledge their work and contributions to end homelessness.”