On August 22 the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR) approved revisions the Department for Children and Families (DCF) made to its controversial proposed changes to Emergency Housing assistance.
Early this summer low-income advocates and homeless service providers were dismayed by changes put forth by DCF. Those on the front lines, who would be most affected by the changes, were not given any notice or provided any consolation about the new restrictions and the potential impact they would have on individuals and their communities.
The original changes would have instituted a six point system to determine those eligible for assistance. These changes would have meant some of the most vulnerable Vermonters would potentially not be eligible for Emergency Housing assistance, including individuals 65 or older, SSI and SSDI recipients, families with a child under 6, and women in their third trimester of pregnancy.
Those individuals, whose physical health or safety are most at risk, will continue to be qualified to receive Emergency Housing assistance under the revised rules endorsed by LCAR. The new rules will keep in place a point system to determine eligibility for those outside of the most vulnerable categories – individuals will now need to meet four criteria out of eight categories to be eligible for an Emergency Housing motel voucher.
“I want to express appreciation for the changes that were made,” Erhard Mahnke of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition told the rules panel. “They were significant.”
Nonetheless VAHC and other housing advocates in the state have expressed concern over a number of the changes. Significantly a rule that requires Emergency Housing applicants’ to pay 50 percent of their gross monthly income toward their emergency housing costs.
“I was disappointed that they [LCAR] didn’t object to it,” said Joe Patrissi of Northeast Kingdom Community Action.
Having people find permanent housing is the goal, a 50 percent income requirement can increase the difficulty for individuals to save enough for a security deposit and first month’s rent.
“If you are spending more than 30 percent of your disposable income, you are in an unsustainable situation,” Mahnke said. “You don’t have enough resources for other necessities.”
While approving the emergency rule, members of LCAR seconded advocates’ concerns about this and several other new provisions.
The new rules will be in effect to the end of November, when they will be replaced by permanent rules. VAHC and other advocates hope to work with the Shumlin Administration to make further changes before the permanent rules are implemented. The Legislature will also likely again revisit Emergency Housing rules in the future.