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Learning from Each Other: Improving Housing Counseling Services with Nhhfa's Housing Referral Network

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This site also features a Learning From Each Other case study on the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority's FSS program. NHHFA's FSS program uses tailored services to meet the needs of WtW and other FSS clients. View the NHHFA FSS case study for more information.


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 -   Challenge
 -   Solution
 -   Implementation
 -   Results

Agency: The New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (NHHFA)
(Size of WtW Program: 500 vouchers)

Challenge

Helping low-income households locate safe and decent rental housing can be a difficult task. Many low-income households suffer from prior evictions, poor credit history, or poor tenancy records. Households are further challenged with low vacancy rates, increasing market rents, lack of knowledge regarding the availability of housing resources, and landlord resistance. These challenges make it difficult for low-income households to locate appropriate housing, increasing the probability that they will become homeless or be forced to accept sub-standard housing.

Solution: Housing Counseling Services through NHHFA's Housing Referral Network

In January 2001, the NHHFA implemented the Housing Referral Network. The Housing Referral Network is a statewide program that provides housing counseling and referral services to very low-income households (with or without rental subsidies), targeting households with minor children. The program is the result of a Governor's committee that examined successful leasing programs operating in tight rental markets around the country. The program was also inspired by the housing search assistance practices of other WtW voucher programs.

NHHFA is contracting with Community Action Agencies (CAAs) to pilot the program in four counties. The CAAs will hire Housing Referral Specialists to provide the following types of assistance:
  • Information on how to fill out applications, interview/talk with landlords, and dress/prepare for interviews or apartment showings.

  • Credit assistance, including how to access credit reports, landlord black lists (lists that name people who've had a rental-related court case filed against them in NH, regardless of the outcome), budget counseling, and consumer credit counseling.

  • Information on available housing assistance, including security deposit funds, utility assistance, shelters, and other subsidized alternatives.

  • Help with applying for housing assistance directly or through referrals to appropriate state and local organizations and assisted housing complexes.

  • Information on available apartments, including how and where to look for an apartment.

  • Follow-up services for up to six months. These services may include participation in or referral services for landlord-tenant mediation and ongoing referrals for budget and utility assistance.

Housing Referral Specialists will also develop and maintain positive, working relationships with landlords, local housing agencies, and other service providers. These relationships will facilitate access to a greater number of units and needed support services. As part of this process, landlords are encouraged to contact their Housing Referral Specialist (HRS) when they have a vacancy. Landlords then work with the Housing Referral Specialist and tenants to reduce turnover rates.

Implementation

NHHFA first requested proposals from qualified entities to assist them with administrating and delivering housing counseling and referral services to very low-income households. NHHFA soon identified and partnered with the Community Action Agencies to deliver program services as part of NHHFA's Housing Referral Network.

NHHFA next identified the four pilot counties for the program. Once identified, the CAAs worked with local service provider agencies to ensure that services were not duplicated and designed programs tailored to each area's specific needs. CAAs also worked with local landlords to create vacancy databases and develop program recognition.

NHHFA also played a role in identifying program participants. Consistent with the program's aim, staff selected very low-income households in need of housing referral services, regardless of Section 8 status, to participate in the program.

Since the program started in January, 2001, the CAAs have already hired staff and designed training sessions in collaboration with a third community partner, The Way Home, a non-profit organization that offers a variety of housing counseling, assistance, and advocacy programs. In addition, NHHFA is monitoring the program and collecting data that identifies which services are most frequently needed and utilized as part of the process of becoming "renter ready." Before launching a statewide program, NHHFA is evaluating the program on an ongoing basis to determine if the program is successful in assisting families with obtaining and retaining housing.

Results

The Housing Referral Network Program may expand to other counties following the pilot period (this expansion is dependent upon results in the selected four counties).

Contact: Kimm Phillips at (603) 472-8623

 
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