Miami-Dade’s homeless agency avoided cuts in federal funding for 2017 on the heels of a bruising year that saw Washington withhold about $6 million from local providers in favor of other programs around the country.
The Homeless Trust, Miami-Dade’s homeless agency, announced late Tuesday that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development has approved about $30 million for local programs — the same funding level in place now. That award amount sparked a funding crisis in early 2016 when local officials lost out on $6 million in requested HUD funding. But county administrators say a major reworking of the agency’s programming will allow Miami-Dade to provide a small boost in beds for the homeless with the $30 million in 2017 without having to cut elsewhere.
“The funding is flat,” said Vicki Mallette, the trust’s director. “But the service is greater.”
She said Miami-Dade will add 111 beds with the new funding on top of the nearly 9,000 already provided. The bulk will come from two projects under development: Karis Village in Goulds and Liberty Village in Miami.
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The funding is flat. But the service is greater.
Vicki Mallette, director of Miami-Dade Homeless Trust
Federal funding for homeless programs wasn’t as competitive this year as it was in the 2016 cycle, when Miami-Dade suffered its worst showing for HUD grant money in recent memory. Washington makes homeless agencies compete for a portion of their current funding levels, and in 2016 the competitive slice of the funding pie amounted to 15 percent.
Miami-Dade lost almost all of its federal funding in the competitive category last year — about $6 million. Providers elsewhere in the country snapped up the money by emphasizing long-term housing rather than more costly treatment and counseling programs that were at the core of some Miami-Dade offerings.
The loss of HUD money sparked alarm throughout Miami-Dade’s social-services network, and had Homeless Trust leaders release a plan to tap $4 million in reserves from the local restaurant tax that generates about $22 million a year for the county’s homeless programs.
For the 2017 grants, HUD required cities and counties to compete for only 7 percent of their total funding. And the county fared much better in the national competition, retaining all of its competitive money. It now heads into the new year with the same amount of federal dollars that it began with. In all, HUD awarded $29.9 million to Homeless Trust programs, crucial funding for an agency with an operating budget of about $61 million in 2017.
Ron Book, the prominent lobbyist who serves as chairman of the Homeless Trust’s board, said the agency retooled existing programs to mesh with federal priorities for “housing-first” programs — providers that focus on getting a homeless person into an apartment or house as quickly as possible, often using rent vouchers in private-sector buildings. The Homeless Trust weeded out programs that focused on job training and other auxiliary benefits to homeless residents, he said.
“We believe we were smarter,” Book said. “Learn from your mistakes.”