Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade winning back $4 million of the $6 million it lost in U.S. homeless aid

Miami-Dade’s homeless programs are set to recoup $4 million of the $6 million in federal aid they lost last year.
Miami-Dade’s homeless programs are set to recoup $4 million of the $6 million in federal aid they lost last year. MIAMI HERALD FILE PHOTO

Miami-Dade will recoup the bulk of the $6 million in federal homeless aid it lost last year, with Washington expected to award $4 million this summer to compensate for the rejected funding requests, according to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.

Diaz-Balart chairs the House subcommittee with authority over the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s funding, and has been public in his efforts to claw back the money Miami-Dade lost to other jurisdictions under the Obama administration. “I was hoping maybe we could get $2 million,” Diaz-Balart said during a telephone interview Monday. “I’m pleased.”

The money should be enough to house an additional 600 families and individuals, adding to the 9,000 beds already provided, according to the county’s homeless agency.

Though Miami-Dade will have another $4,096,000 million to distribute to homeless-service providers this summer, it probably will not go to the domestic-violence shelters and drug-treatment centers that lost out on $6 million in federal grants in 2016.

Ron Book, chairman of the county’s homeless board, noted federal housing policy still favors “rapid rehousing” — the practice of providing market-rate apartments to people with no place to live rather than the more expensive setting of a specialized center.

So Miami-Dade will distribute the extra $4 million to organizations with a chance of winning HUD funds in 2018, leaving the specialized centers out of contention.

“It would not be wise to spend non-recurring dollars on a recurring cost,” Book said. “It is our intent to spend all of it on rapid rehousing.”

Miami-Dade expects to spend about $60 million on homeless programs and domestic-violence facilities this year, and roughly $29 million was budgeted from Washington. The extra $4 million amounts to a 6 percent increase overall, and a 20 percent boost to Washington’s contribution.

Diaz-Balart is chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee, and earlier this year inserted $40 million in the HUD budget to help agencies that lost 2017 funding. Miami-Dade ended up receiving about 10 cents of every dollar appropriated, and a formal announcement by HUD is expected Thursday.

“If we had not had Mario Diaz-Balart where he is,” Book said Monday, “we would not be here.”

Book described 2016’s funding loss as the biggest hit in the history of the county’s homeless agency. Washington didn’t cut funds overall last year; instead, other cities and counties won the money lost by Miami-Dade.

Federal policy generally discourages spending homeless dollars on group homes, given the higher costs of operations and staffing requirements. Instead, the “housing-first” strategy favors agencies that can place a homeless individual or family into an apartment as quickly as possible, and then provide job help, counseling and other services off-site with the help of a case worker. With Miami-Dade relying on federal homeless dollars to subsidize treatment and domestic-violence centers, it was more vulnerable to HUD cuts than were other homeless programs more focused on housing-first efforts.

Stung by the cuts, Miami-Dade last year liquidated more than $4.5 million in reserves of the special restaurant tax that provides local dollars for homeless programs. The county dispersed the money after asking nonprofits that lost out on HUD funds to trim budgets and pursue other revenue sources. County officials described the local dollars as a patch to give the providers time to make plans that don’t involve federal money.

The New Hope Corps addiction center in Homestead received $430,000 in county funds last year to compensate for the lost federal funds of the same amount. Director Stephen Alvarez said that on Oct. 1, the 52 beds currently reserved for homeless addicts will shrink to 28. He did secure state money to sustain an extra dozen beds, but those will be offered to anyone needing addiction services but unable to pay for them through insurance.

“How are you going to help the homeless addicts we see?” Alvarez said. “You can’t just put them in an apartment. … They’re requesting treatment. Yet treatment is not going to be available.”