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Nashville Homeless Power Project led a march of poor and homeless families for housing, which culminated with the takeover of vacant HUD homes in a Nashville neighborhood.  Photo by John Partipilo/The Tennessean.

There is growing interest in the creation of homeless trust funds, particularly at the local level.  These funds bring the opportunity to design programs that are specifically targeted to the needs and opportunities working with the homeless population present.   Some existing homeless trust funds provide primarily grants to service organizations, with less emphasis on creating new housing opportunities.  Other homeless trust funds place greater emphasis on providing affordable housing, but do so, in combination with services and other initiatives directed to the homeless population.

While some housing trust funds permit funds to be spent to address the needs of the homeless population, there are currently seven jurisdictions that have created specific homeless trust funds.

Most homeless trust funds provide grants to organizations that provide housing and essential services for individuals and families striving to end their state of homelessness and becoming self-sufficient and permanently housed.  Funds also support emergency shelters and transitional housing facilities, coordination of existing community services, and often incorporate available federal funds.  Washington’s program supports county Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness and enables each county to retain a portion of the dedicated revenue for this purpose.  Kalamazoo County, Michigan has used funds to support a housing voucher program and limited housing development to enable the community’s homeless to access available housing.

Washington State.  The Washington State Legislature has authorized two subsequent surcharges on the state’s document recording fee to help eliminate homelessness.  Estimates are that this will raise about $20 million annually.

The Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development is charged with creating a homeless housing program to develop and coordinate a statewide strategic plan aimed at housing homeless persons.  The Department is also charged with conducting an annual census of the homeless in the state.  In consultation with the Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Affordable Housing Advisory Board, the Department will report annually on the state’s performance in furthering the goals of the state ten-year homeless housing strategic plan and the performance of each participating local government.

The document recording surcharge is charged by each County.  Revenues are shared between the counties and the state, with allowance for administrative costs.  The state fund will make awards to local governments through the homeless housing grant program.  These funds may be used to assist homeless individuals and families gain access to adequate housing, prevent at-risk individuals from becoming homeless, address the root causes of homelessness, track and report on homeless-related data, and facilitate the movement of homeless or formerly homeless individuals along the housing continuum toward more stable and independent housing.

Participating counties—now every county in the state—must meet certain conditions to be eligible to retain its share of the revenues.  Revenues are generally used to address each county’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Georgia.  The mission of the State Housing Trust Fund for the Homeless is to support the efforts of organizations that provide housing and essential services for individuals and families striving to end their state of homelessness. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs develops an annual Continuum of Care Plan which serves as the state’s blueprint for providing a series of comprehensive and progressive resources to homeless individuals and families such that they become self-sufficient and permanently housed.

Funds have continued to support homeless assistance programs operated by local governments and nonprofit organizations throughout the state to help them stabilize families, to house or provide services to homeless persons and persons affected by HIV/AIDS, and to assist with emergency shelters and transitional housing facilities.  The Fund receives approximately $3 million a year from the Legislature and coordinates federal sources of funding. The Trust Fund also provides ongoing training on innovative strategies; initiates agency collaboration throughout the state; and supports communication strategies to exchange information and coordinate programs.

Wisconsin.  The State of Wisconsin has had a commitment to assisting homeless individuals and families since 1985.  Among these efforts is the Interest Bearing Real Estate Trust Account Program (the state’s housing trust fund).  Since 1993, a state law has required real estate brokers to establish interest-bearing real estate trust accounts for the deposit of all down payments, earnest money and other trust funds received by the broker and related to the conveyance of real estate.  This amounts to approximately $300,000 annually.  The proceeds are used to make grants to organizations that provide shelter or services to homeless individuals or families.  The Division of Community Development augments the existing emergency and transitional homeless programs with these funds.

Nebraska.  The State of Nebraska created the Homeless Assistance Program (one of its two housing trust funds) and committed to it $0.25 of every $1,000 of the value of real estate sold in the state, collected via the documentary tax stamp on real estate sales.  The fund receives approximately $2 million a year to support client services, operations, homeless prevention, and rehabilitation.  The Department of Health and Human Services allocates funds throughout the state based on a formula to ensure that all regions of the state receive funding. These grants provide emergency shelter and temporary housing, address needs of homeless migrant farm workers, link housing assistance with programs to promote self-sufficiency, and prevent homelessness.  Funds include federal ESGP.

Missouri.  Missouri passed legislation enabling its three most populous counties to increase their document recording fees, if approved by a vote of the public, to support activities in the county serving the homeless population.  All three counties approved these initiatives. St. Louis County has received awards for its innovative computer based tracking system developed to coordinate needs and resources throughout the county.  The Homeless Hotline is operated by the Housing Resource Center. The overall program receives approximately $1 million a year and makes grants in four categories:  emergency shelter and transitional housing, prevention of homelessness, projects to encourage self-sufficiency, and coordination of existing community services.

New Jersey. Created by the New Jersey legislature in 2008, Public Law 2009 Chapter 123 permits a county to impose a surcharge of $3 on each document recorded and deposit these funds into a county homelessness trust fund.  Funds can be used solely for the operation of a homelessness housing grant program, with five per cent allowed annually for costs related to the administration of the fund. To date eight counties throughout the state have adopted and begun implementation of these homeless trust funds, including:  Bergen, Camden, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic, Somerset and Union.

Dade County, Florida.  Created in 1993, this fund receives proceeds from a one-percent food and beverage tax, which generates about $11 million a year.  Funds are coordinated with federal, state and private funds.  The Trust implements the local continuum of care plan, serves as in an advisory capacity on issues involving homelessness, and supports and monitors the provision of housing and services for homeless persons throughout the County.  The program has partnered with the Community Partnership for Homeless, involved in the construction and operation of Homeless Assistance Centers.

Kalamazoo City and County, Michigan.  The Local Housing Assistance Fund is administered by the County Public Housing Commission and has received a total of $1 million in funds from the City and County, plus another $500,000 in funds from the state.  The Fund is used to support a housing voucher program and limited housing development to enable the community’s homeless to access available housing.

HTFProject case studies on three models of trust funds that address homelessness:

Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust

Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund

Washington Homelessness Housing and Assistance Act