In partnership with the Fayetteville Metropolitan Housing Authority, Alliance Health recently received access to 47 mainstream vouchers from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help people we serve in Cumberland County afford housing.
Alliance Health is the managed care organization for publicly funded behavioral healthcare services for the people of Durham, Wake, Cumberland and Johnston counties. Alliance works with a network of almost 2200 private providers to serve the needs of 386,000 Medicaid-eligible and uninsured individuals within a total population of 1.8 million.
Mainstream vouchers are a part of HUD’s housing choice voucher program (often called Section 8 in reference to the federal Housing Act of 1937), which helps very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. The mainstream vouchers are specifically for families that include a person with disabilities.
Alliance Senior Vice President, Community Health and Well-Being Ann Oshel said the 47 vouchers, which is the entire amount requested, represent a leap forward in Alliance’s efforts to ensure housing stability for the people we serve in Cumberland County. These vouchers are prioritized for persons with disabilities living in homelessness and those returning to the community from institutional care.
Demand for housing choice vouchers always surpasses supply and the waiting list is “longer than anyone would be able to access,” Oshel said. “When housing authorities are able to open up the waiting list they typically do it for people who are both elderly and disabled, which leaves a lot of people we serve off because they are not elderly.”
“People with disabilities are much more susceptible to homelessness because they don’t have income and have difficulty accessing treatment and staying on their medication,” and the vouchers are the only way a person who depends upon Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can afford a place to live, she said.
Voucher recipients are free to choose any housing that meets program requirements and are not limited to living in subsidized housing projects. The housing authority pays the subsidy, which is generally the lesser of a pre-determined payment standard or the gross rent for the unit, minus 30% of the family’s monthly income, directly to the landlord. The family pays the remainder.
The vouchers are permanent, which means that as long as the participants abide by their leases and do not commit a crime they will never have to pay more than 30% of their income on rent.
Securing housing is just the first step, Oshel said, because vulnerable people need support to remain in housing. “Supportive housing is the combination of safe, decent, affordable housing and support services that are necessary for someone to live successfully. That is the marriage between Alliance and the Fayetteville Metropolitan Housing Authority – they create access to permanent housing and we create access to support services for somebody to be successful.”
Safe and affordable housing, along with the supports necessary to thrive there, is perhaps the most basic and powerful social driver of health. Alliance has long been committed to “Housing First, Housing Plus,” the principle of supportive housing as a platform for improving quality of life and a foundation for recovery.
“It’s really hard to address the other social drivers of health if you can’t find housing for somebody. It really begins and ends there. And the minute you stabilize them in their own place, you can address all those other unmet social needs,” Oshel said.