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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Expand the state rental assistance program

    When the governor arrives at his offices in the State Capitol these days, he may notice some changes next door. There among the bandstand and statues of Bushnell Park are tents. An increasing number of people are unhoused in Connecticut, some living in tents across our state, including several tents in the park within sight of the governor’s Capitol offices.

    In January, perhaps recognizing the growing crisis, Governor Ned Lamont announced the formation of the Connecticut Interagency Council on Homelessness. At the time, the governor said, “Everyone should have access to a safe, warm place to call home. State and local governments, along with our nonprofit partners, need the resources available to them to ensure that fewer people face the possibility of becoming homeless.”

    The formation of the council to better coordinate responses to homelessness is welcome, but without additional resources for prevention, the crisis will persist.

    More than a quarter of Connecticut families who rent their home spend more than 50% of their income on housing costs — leaving little for other necessities and putting them at high risk of eviction and homelessness. Rents have increased 20% since 2021, and evictions are occurring at higher rates than pre-pandemic averages. Nine hundred and forty people experienced unsheltered homelessness over a two-week period in February, unable to come into a warming center due to capacity. There are upwards of 1,000 people left out in the cold daily since November. As Open Doors Executive Director Michele Conderino said in recent reporting from The Hour, “The rise in homeless numbers across the state is economically driven. The housing market creates a hostile environment where low-income individuals and families can fall into homelessness easily.”

    The costs of our housing crisis and homelessness are disproportionately borne by lower income families, Black families, undocumented families, seniors and people with disabilities. Our missions at Partnership for Strong Communities and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness are rooted in the belief that every individual deserves the basic human right to a safe and stable home. One key way we can ensure fewer people experience homelessness is by expanding funding to the state’s Rental Assistance Program (RAP).

    Research consistently shows the benefits of housing vouchers, like Connecticut’s RAP program, far exceed their costs. Vouchers help prevent the costly emergency interventions required when individuals fall into homelessness, but they also yield substantial long-term savings by reducing reliance on costly emergency services while improving housing stability, educational outcomes and employment prospects for participants. RAP supports low-income families to find housing in the private market by subsidizing a portion of the rent to make their out-of-pocket rental payment affordable. RAP vouchers reduce families’ cost of housing to no more than 30-40% of their income, ensuring they can use the rest of their income to meet other basic needs. Housing choices expand for families participating in RAP. It supports families as their housing needs shift over time with changes in family size or job location.

    RAP currently serves approximately 6,700 households. The state does not fund the program to reach all those in need — and as rents continue to increase, the program serves fewer families with the same dollars. Unlike the federal housing voucher program, it is completely within the power of the legislature and the governor to determine funding levels for RAP. Expanding RAP must be accompanied by stabilizing and strengthening the homeless response system, policies that support the creation and preservation of affordable housing in all communities across the state, and policies that support equitable access and protections for renters. While there is no single policy antidote to our housing problems, increasing funding for RAP would quickly stabilize the lives of many more Connecticut residents. No one should be living in a tent in Connecticut. Housing is a human right, and our policies must support that value.

    You can learn more about Connecticut’s RAP program, how it is administered, and how it compares to the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program at pschousing.org/housing-affordability.

    Sarah Fox is the Chief Executive Officer of Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. Chelsea Ross is the Executive Director of Partnership for Strong Communities.

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