The City of Norman Housing Authority will be receiving housing vouchers to help those experiencing homelessness get a roof over their heads, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Monday.
Last month, HUD announced that $5 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act would be allocated toward helping communities provide housing for those experiencing homelessness. On Monday, HUD shared that an additional $5 billion in American Rescue Plan funds will go toward giving communities emergency housing vouchers.
“Based on the data from the Norman community and also the capacity of the Norman housing authorities, [HUD] awarded us 30 vouchers, which means that we can assist 30 individuals on that program,” said Karen Canavan, the executive director of the Norman Housing Authority. “The services that they’ll be receiving from the Norman Housing Authority will be [assistance] with their rent. So once an individual receives a voucher, they are then eligible to go out in the community and locate a rental property that meets HUD requirements.
“From there we inspect it, make sure it’s safe and sanitary, and then the tenant will be paying 30% of their adjusted gross income toward the rent and we make up the difference.”
Nationwide, these vouchers will help house 130,000 people who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness, Secretary of HUD Marcia Fudge said on a call with reporters Monday.
“Moving forward HUD will continue to do everything we can to provide every American with a chance to live with stability, dignity and with hope,” Fudge said.
According to Fudge, the number of emergency housing vouchers Norman is set to receive is based on data provided to HUD by the Norman Continuum of Care.
The Norman CoC is a funding opportunity from HUD that was created to promote a community-wide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness. CoC is responsible for tracking and reporting to HUD the number of people experiencing homelessness in Norman and Cleveland County.
According to the latest data provided by the Norman CoC, at the end of 2020 there were 266 people in Norman who were unhoused. While the HUD vouchers will not allow Norman to help everyone in need, the vouchers, coupled with the first $1.5 million of funding received by the city earlier this year to help that community, will significantly help the Norman community, Canavan said.
“This was something that was rolling out extremely fast from HUD,” Canavan said. “On May 10 [we found out] we were eligible for the vouchers and this past week on May 11, 12, 13 and 14 there have been all sorts of HUD webinars. So, I certainly commend HUD on how quickly they tried to roll this out and get services to the client.”
According to the Emergency Housing Voucher Award Letter sent by HUD, the Norman Housing Authority has until May 24 to accept the vouchers.
The letter notes that the vouchers are not limited helping those experiencing homelessness, but can be used to help people dealing with a wide range of issues, including those at risk of homelessness, those who are recently homeless or people who are fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking.
On a call with reporters on Monday, Richard Cho, the senior advisor for Housing and Services at HUD, said allowing the local housing authorities to administer the vouchers ensures that the people who need them the most receive them.
“We’ve structured these vouchers in the way for housing authorities, who administer the bulk of the rental assistance in this country, so they are the best equipped to be able to administer the vouchers,” Cho said. “We’ve required housing authorities to partner with these Continuum of Cares in determining who’s eligible and who should be prioritized for these vouchers.”
Cho also laid out some guidelines and qualifications that will have to be met and followed when distributing these vouchers.
“The vouchers will function like any other vouchers in terms of requirements for housing quality inspections, so the housing authorities that are administering them will be subject to ensuring that,” he said. “Right now during COVID, we’ve allowed them to have owner certification that their units meet, but within 12 months every unit must pass an inspection so all the safeguards are in place to ensure that people are entering quality units.”
In order to help people experiencing homelessness better take advantage of the vouchers and affordable housing, the City of Norman is looking to hire a housing navigator, said Lisa Krieg, the Community Development Block Grant coordinator for Norman.
“This person will be charged with developing relationships with landlords to house this population, as well as keeping track of units that may be available and working with the clients that are in need of housing,” she said. “…This will benefit not only just the City of Norman. but all of the agencies in town … there’s six or eight agencies that are actively trying to house people, and they’re all calling the same landlords.
“So this will be more of a central clearinghouse for that activity, as well as to educate the landlords [of] the benefits of working with this population.”
For those interested in receiving a voucher, the Norman Housing Authority has a new website where people can get more information on how and when to apply for emergency housing vouchers.
The specifics on how the plan will be rolled out, who will get the vouchers and more are still being discussed, with hopes of finalizing them by the end of this week, people involved in the process said.