What is VASH?
The Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) is run through the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You might be familiar with HUD’s Section 8 vouchers for low-income families. VASH is similar, but serves only qualifying veterans. Like the HUD program, there are income thresholds and other criteria to be eligible.
Vouchers are allocated proportionately depending on several factors. HUD looks for large concentrations of homeless veterans, identifies the nearest VA facility and the public housing agency (PHA), then invites the agency to apply for housing vouchers, which are generally administered at the local level.
To be eligible, a vet must have been homeless for over one year, or have experienced three episodes of homelessness in a two-year period. There are limits on income, based on HUD estimates of median family income, adjusted based on family size. A VASH social worker, usually at a VA facility, screens vets for eligibility using a standardized tool that awards “points” per circumstance. In this way vets who are elderly or sick are prioritized. Some programs have a qualifying level of 8 points; some have as high as 12 or more.
Longer Wait Times
In the past, veterans applying in Los Angeles County could complete the eligibility process in a week, sometimes even in the same day. It used to take 2-3 weeks to get the voucher. Now the wait time if 4-6 months due to staffing issues at the VA West Los Angeles. Only that’s not to complete the process and walk out with a voucher. That’s just to get an appointment to be screened for eligibility. If veteran is approved for a voucher, it could take several months to receive it.
It gets worse. A veteran with a voucher must find a landlord willing to accept it. Most landlords want to rent at market value, not the reduced amount that HUD pays. Landlords who are willing to accept the VASH vouchers tend to be in areas that are dangerous. Think about it. Is a neighborhood that experiences gunshots nightly the best place to house a veteran with PTSD. Probably not.
Los Angeles County has the largest population of homeless veterans in the nation. A recent push to make more vouchers available did not have the positive impact it promised because the combined factors of slow processing time and a dearth of landlords willing to accept them. Yes, the vouchers were received, but many expired before they could be used.
This creates a kind of feedback loop for veterans, reinforcing the perception that the VA is not user-friendly, that promises are not kept. And it does nothing to reduce chronic homelessness among veterans. Our experience from our Lifeline for Vets suggests that similar circumstances exist in other states. One mid-west state reported that the wait for VASH vouchers there is 2-3 years.
New York as a Model
New York City is ahead of Los Angeles County. They recognized the need for incentives to get landlords to participate in the VASH program. Here are some of the incentives they use:
- 15% of the annual rent as a broker bonus
- $1,000 Landlord Incentive for every apartment and commercial SRO with a one-year lease signed by a homeless veteran.
- $500 room rental incentive for every one-year lease signed by a veteran.
- $1000 bonus to supportive housing provider for each community unit rented to a veteran with a VASH, Section 8 or MRT voucher.
- Access to a special supplemental assistance fund to cover potential damage to the apartment as well as to assist with the payment of rental arrears, if needed.
Vets who receive VASH vouchers work with case managers after they’re housed in an ongoing care program. The city of New York has been incentivizing landlords for over two years. That seems like an obvious thing to try here in LA, and possibly other cities across the country. It seems a cruel waste of resources to have the vouchers go unused here while the homeless population remains static or increases.
Other VA Issues
Since you asked…West LA VA has other issues. In 2011 the ACLU brought suit against the VA West LA for misusing its campus. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-veterans-settle-campus-20150127-story.html Originally deeded to the government over a hundred years ago as a home for veterans, the VA leased property to non-veteran interests. On January 27, 2015, Gale Holland reporting in the Los Angeles Times said that the federal government had agreed to settle the suit. “Under the settlement, the VA will develop a master land-use plan for the campus that identifies sites for housing homeless veterans. Further details were not available.”
As of the first week of April, a hearing has been scheduled for the Draft Master Plan on April 26, 2018. Over three years since the settlement. And no ground has been broken. How long will veterans have to wait for that promised housing?