AZQ’s Andre Serrette Discusses Program’s New Vouchers and Lease-Up Efforts
Last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released Notice PIH 2021-15 (HA) and allocated approximately 70,000 Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs) to public housing agencies (PHAs).
These EHVs will assist individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness; at risk of experiencing homelessness; fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking; or were recently homeless and for whom providing rental assistance will prevent the family’s homelessness or having high risk of housing instability.
Quadel’s AZQ office, through the City of Phoenix Housing Department, received an allocation of 390 vouchers. AZQ Managing Director, Andre Serrette, discusses the EHV program, its possible challenges, and how he plans to lead AZQ’s EHV lease-up efforts.
Skyrocketing Rents and Housing Shortage Demanded Creation of EHV Program
With housing stock patterns continuing – high demand, low vacancy – HUD and government officials decided to try a different avenue to address increasing homelessness across the country. Serrette understands the housing crisis better than most, as he was the past Assistant Manager of the Los Angeles County Development Authority for five years. During this time, he helped alleviate homeless rates in the county by creating the Los Angeles County Homeless Incentive Program that housed 1,100 individuals by the time he left the agency. He sees the need for the EHV program in the Phoenix metro area.
“Housing has been a hot topic the past few years simply because of the climate of housing. Rent is skyrocketing. For the last two or three years running, the Phoenix metro area had the highest rent increase percentages in the entire country. The city is growing. A lot of people continue to move here, and our inventory is low whether you are buying or renting,” Serrette said. “Housing is so expensive now, and there seems like there are more and more individuals who are becoming homeless. I think (the government) is trying to do what it can to address the situation.”
Collaboration with Continuum of Care (CoC) Partners is Essential to Program Success
The allocated vouchers go into effect July 1, 2021, and will remain in effect until September 2023. Housing authorities who received EHVs must have a completed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in place with their CoC partners within 30 days of the effective date. This helps individuals needing the housing vouchers and supportive services receive the care they need soon as possible.
Serrette said he has been in contact with local CoC partners. In addition, all organizations have been having internal meetings and conference calls to determine current capacities and the best strategies to achieve their goals.
Serrette knows continual, open collaboration with CoC partners is the only way the program will work.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s just brand new and most housing authorities probably haven’t done this. It’s about learning the ropes and making sure it’s done correctly,” Serrette said. “I think the biggest thing though is staying aggressive (when leasing) and making sure you are in constant communication with the CoCs to make sure you are getting referrals. It doesn’t matter how much money you have – if you’re not getting referrals or housing anyone, it doesn’t mean anything. Make sure the housing authority is getting referrals and that the pipeline always stays open.”
Keep it Simple: Streamline the Process
Serrette’s advice to any executive director or department manager tasked with implementing the EHV program and leasing the allocated vouchers?
Don’t overthink program administration.
Create clear, separate roles for the housing authorities and their CoC partners. Acknowledging CoC providers are experts in providing supportive services while understanding the housing authority’s most important role is to secure housing for voucher participants.
“Sometimes it’s better for the housing authority to say ‘hey, make sure you just get us the referral, and we can take care of the housing component.’ That way, (CoC providers) aren’t racking their brains trying to figure out the housing part,” Serrette said. “CoCs can provide support services for homeless individuals or at-risk individuals and provide an assessment. You want them to focus on their expertise, and let the housing authority do its job. HUD has given a lot of flexibility on this as far as documentation and determining eligibility. (HUD) wants to streamline it as much as possible.”
The EHV Program Could be Here to Stay
As one of Los Angeles County’s Homeless Incentive Program developers, Serrette believes well-run programs using EHVs could help alleviate America’s increasing homelessness population. He also believes there is a “strong possibility” HUD will renew the program or make it part of the Housing Choice Voucher program in some way.
“At this point now, you have to look at the effectiveness of those programs (addressing homelessness) and how we might be able to use the voucher program to assist in alleviating homelessness,” Serrette said. “There have been a few housing authorities who have already done this, and it’s been proven that there can be success with it. You need to have a lot of patience with a program like this, and make sure people aren’t getting frustrated along the way.”