We’ve received a lot of calls recently from legislators and their staffers asking for guidance to respond to homeless constituents seeking assistance. We connect them to local homeless services, but legislators often find out that there are long waits for housing assistance in in their districts. Need is increasing, and housing resources are lacking.

We’re happy to assist legislators who are trying to do something to help homeless constituents when they call or show up in their office. But we’re also telling them that they can do more than just help that individual; they have the power to make systemic change to address the underlying problem.

Unfortunately, homeless and housing issues were overlooked when the governor introduced his budget earlier this spring. That’s why we’re calling on the legislature to expand the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, the primary state source of homeless and affordable housing services.

The budget recently passed the House without a Housing Trust Fund amendment, but we’re hopeful that the Senate will fix that when they revise the two-year spending plan soon. This recent Akron-Beacon Journal editorial summarizes the issue nicely. We have strong support from several influential senators for a Housing Trust Fund expansion, but legislators need to hear that their constituents want action on this issue if it’s going to pass.

So now is a good time to call your state senator and ask them to support an amendment to expand the Ohio Housing Trust Fund in the biennial budget (HB 166).

We’ve found the most effective way to change minds is to take policymakers out to see effective homeless and housing programs for themselves. It’s a lot easier to vote for something in the budget when you’ve met real people whose lives have been transformed by the programs it funds.

We know these direct contacts make the difference because the biggest supporters we have in the Senate have seen first-hand the organizations in their districts that are working to make home a reality for their most vulnerable constituents. That’s why we’ve been helping coordinate tours of housing programs for legislators and cabinet members. If you would like to help organize a tour in your area – please let us know.

While we have a good story to tell policymakers about reducing Ohio’s rates of chronic and veterans’ homelessness, the growing affordable housing shortage is pushing more families with children into homelessness. Comprehensive data from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency recently found a sharp increase in children driving the total homeless population higher to over 70,000. Nearly one-third are now children, including nearly 3,000 babies under age one.

Given the enormous gap between rising rents and incomes among low-wage workers, this problem will continue to get worse unless we get more funding into effective interventions and permanent housing solutions. Currently, most of the public resources come from the federal government. But the state can do a lot more to get at-risk children and families back into safe, decent affordable housing, and the Housing Trust Fund is the way to do it.

We’re also working with the DeWine Administration on a proposal to allocate a portion of Ohio’s federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funding for local rapid rehousing efforts. The Homeless Families Assistance Program is a great opportunity for the governor to do something to specifically target the population that the governor has prioritized – vulnerable young children.

On the federal level, there have been some positive developments lately. The House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees HUD’s budget released it’s draft FY 2020 spending bill that would boost spending on affordable housing and homeless programs by at least $5.9 billion, and rejects the administration’s harmful policy proposals. Our friends at the National Low Income Housing Coalition have all the details. There’s still a long way to go, but the budget is off to a good start.

So stay tuned for updates about it by supporting a stronger HUD budget and an expansion of the Ohio Housing Trust Fund. And don’t forget – the National Housing Week of Action (May 30 – June 5) is a great time to speak out about the need for more affordable housing in Ohio!

Thanks for helping house Ohio,

Bill Faith
Executive Director