The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is pumping money into the effort to reduce homelessness across the country. The department announced this week it was allocating $5 billion in American Rescue Plan funds for emergency housing vouchers to be dispersed nationwide.
Through the voucher program, HUD is sending out 70,000 housing choice vouchers for homeless individuals and families or those at risk of becoming homeless. Dallas will receive about 1,100.
In a press release, Mayor Eric Johnson thanked President Joe Biden's administration for "this much-needed assistance that will make our city stronger."
However, some have reported disparities in the housing choice voucher program and say landlords are reluctant to take the vouchers.
The Center for Social Innovation, in partnership with Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, released a report which identified different factors that contributed to homelessness. Homeless individuals, as well as service providers, were surveyed for the report.
One individual said their housing voucher kept getting turned down because of their criminal history. “I wasn't able to use that [Dallas housing] voucher because every place that I went to turned me down, because of the one felony that I have, which I went to prison for on my record,” the respondent said.
Another respondent said they believed there was some discrimination in who received housing vouchers.
The Inclusive Communities Project has conducted landlord surveys that it says show “rampant discrimination against housing choice voucher holders” which “continues to segregate North Texas households.” The Inclusive Communities Project is a nonprofit focused on civil rights, fair housing and inclusive, non-discriminatory community development. Out of the 1,413 reasonably priced private market apartment complexes surveyed in 2020, only 7% of them in Dallas accepted vouchers.
In Texas’ privately owned housing, it is not against state or local law to discriminate on the basis that someone has a voucher or to refuse to take the voucher. However, some are trying to change that.
While landlords in Texas can discriminate against voucher holders, they’re not allowed to discriminate against people for other things like race, ethnicity, presence of children in the family or disability. Doing so could be a violation of fair housing laws. The two bills are attempting to get “source of income” added to that list of things landlords cannot discriminate against.
That source of income can be a housing voucher or any other federal, state or local housing assistance provided to a family or an individual.
In Dallas though, the Comprehensive Housing Policy passed in 2018 briefly touches on a sublease program that would incentivize landlords to accept voucher holders. The Dallas Housing Finance Corp. was meant to administer the program, but it doesn’t appear there’s been much movement since the housing policy was passed.
In 2019, Austin consulting firm AngelouEconomics recommended that the city consider creating a special tax district to help pay for the sublease program and boost affordable housing. The city hasn't done so.
Homelessness hasn't gotten much better in DFW throughout the pandemic. An annual census of the homeless in North Texas found 4,570 individuals were without a home in Dallas and Collin counties, a record level in the area.
Last year, the number was slightly lower, at 4,471. Around 90% of the individuals this year were in Dallas County, but growth in homeless populations is not exclusive to North Texas.
While these are pre-pandemic numbers, an annual nationwide survey of the homeless found that the number of people in the U.S. living on the streets or in temporary shelters reached 580,000, an increase for the fourth year in a row.
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