Persons experiencing homelessness is at an extreme high, and not all states have programs to address funding services in affordable housing. National Equity Fund’s (NEF’s) managing director of supportive housing Debbie Burkart believes a strategic national, agency-led program with dedicated funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is crucial.

“This country needs to move from a patchwork of fragmented, frequently uncoordinated systems that are difficult for a person to navigate, to an agency serviced system that seamlessly integrates services with housing,” Burkart said. “Currently, community-based organizations have to weave together programs in housing, healthcare, child welfare, food, and transportation, as well as manage several contracts of varying durations.”

Burkart, who brings more than 30 years of experience in permanent supportive housing (PSH) notes that many people with complex behavioral health and social needs fall into institutional settings with high societal costs. “There are some good individual programs out there, but we need to scale national funding for services,” she said. “An alignment of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and HHS could streamline the process for providing adequate and consistent services."

The Need for Housing With Services

Supportive housing often serves those making below 30% of the area median income. Federal and state disability payments alone put most individuals at or below the poverty level of $13,590 to $18,310 for one- and two-person households.

“One’s inability to afford housing coupled with the severe shortage of affordable housing are key drivers of the nation’s homelessness crisis,” Burkart said. “To build new communities for those near the poverty level, we need both low-cost capital and project-based rent subsidies to cover operating costs long-term.”

Burkart recommends that HUD provides more Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) to help. Paired with low-cost capital, HCVs can sustain affordable housing long term for vulnerable populations. A recent study by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, reports that “increases in federal rental assistance have lagged far behind growth in the number of renters with very low incomes. Between 1987 and 2015, the number of very low-income renters grew by 6 million while the number assisted rose by only 950,000, reducing the share with assistance from 29% to 25%.”

Burkart also emphasizes that breaking the cycle of homelessness is more than just providing shelter. The creation of an integrated-service system is crucial, which would replace the person-driven approach that requires an individual to seek out their own health care and employment training services. Burkart recommends a national system that supports community-based service providers in the efficient provision of services. Additionally, HHS service dollars linked with HUD rental subsidies and low-cost capital sources like low-income housing tax credit financing are important for successful supportive housing.

“The homeless often suffer from a variety of physical and/or mental ails, which are then exacerbated by a lack of a family support system,” Burkart said. “Because of this, getting disability benefits and access to the existing fragmented system falls to the person in need of services, and many homeless individuals aren’t capable of navigating the labyrinth of required paperwork. We need a better system to fund services.”

Preserving Older Supportive Housing While Growing the Pipeline

Burkart acknowledges that public and private entities spotlight new PSH developments; however, it is just as important not to ignore preservation of older properties built during the 1990s and early 2000s. Then, capital dollars were more limited and moderate rehab construction was the norm. Today, Burkart calls for a modernization of aging PSH building infrastructures.

“Over the last three decades, building codes and policy standards have evolved at the federal, state, and local levels,” Burkart said. “Accessibility standards were not finalized until 1998 and national green building standards were introduced in the mid-2000s. Many PSH properties need substantial rehabilitation of their major systems. As there is a push to create more, we do not want to lose the current homes in place for this vulnerable population.”

National Equity Fund is a leading nonprofit LIHTC syndicator with a mission to create and deliver innovative, collaborative financial solutions to expand the creation and preservation of affordable housing. NEF brings 35 years of affordable housing finance experience and knowledge across a broad range of supportive housing categories to effectively support residents, partners and communities, including policymakers.

Burkart, based in Los Angeles, is at the forefront of these national efforts and has been a key player in the PSH space throughout her 30-year tenure at NEF. Since 1988, she has steered more than $1.5 billion in LIHTC equity to developments serving veterans, persons experiencing homelessness and persons living with disabilities among other vulnerable populations

To learn more about how to help create and preserve housing for persons experiencing homelessness, please contact, a 501(c)4 organization.