Molinaro Focuses on Homelessness Prevention in 2021 Executive Budget

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Molinaro Focuses on Homelessness
Prevention in 2021 Executive Budget

Transitional housing, expanded case management, land bank
seed funding among resources in County Executive’s spending plan

Poughkeepsie, NY … Ahead of his 2021 Executive Budget release on Wednesday, Oct. 28th, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro announced his proposed budget includes new initiatives to combat homelessness and expand housing options for the County’s most vulnerable residents.

County Executive Molinaro said, “A home is more than just a physical space – it’s the foundation of hope, from which successful lives are created and fruitful futures are nurtured. Everyone deserves the opportunity to live in a safe and affordable home, and Dutchess County has led by example with our efforts to increase those opportunities for residents. My 2021 Executive Budget builds on our successful work of recent years, provides more resources and establishes further community collaboration to decrease Dutchess County’s homeless population while increasing hope for those looking to flourish.”

2021-Executive-Budget

In 2019, an interdisciplinary team of housing service providers and officials from County and local governments met to re-imagine and reinvigorate how to address homelessness. This team identified areas of concern, including the increasing length of stay for those in shelters; cost and inefficiency of placing individuals and families in local motels; lack of diverse housing options; and difficulty in providing services to a dispersed homeless population.

Based on the workgroup’s findings, Dutchess County implemented several inventive measures to reduce the County’s homeless population, provide more effective transitional housing and increase the availability of affordable housing, including:

● Establishing a one-stop contact center for households facing eviction, the first step towards a more comprehensive system to centralize the County’s established housing services to provide information and support to those searching for affordable housing, help access available financial assistance and connect with financial planning and legal services;

● Engaging local hospitals and state-run correctional facilities, to ensure appropriate re-entry planning prior to the release of patients or incarcerated individuals;

● Developing new, centralized emergency and transitional housing solutions to reduce reliance on costly motels for temporary housing; and

● Increasing access to affordable housing by working with local municipalities to add zoning language and land use policy to expand rental and housing options; engaging builders to develop market- and submarket-rate housing as part of larger projects; and training local municipal, planning, and zoning board members on what constitutes affordable housing and reinforcing its importance.

Although 2020 upended many of the County’s best-laid plans, much was still achieved, and new opportunities arose from the tumult caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting vulnerable populations was of paramount importance, and no group was more vulnerable than those experiencing homelessness. Individuals experiencing homelessness have limited access to healthcare, often have pre-existing conditions, and are at greater risk of exposure due to their circumstances and living conditions. Understanding this problem, on March 22nd, the County Executive issued an emergency order allowing the recently vacant temporary housing units (PODS) at the Dutchess County Sheriff campus to be repurposed as emergency shelters for those in need. In partnership with Hudson River Housing (HRH), Mental Health America (MHA) and Dutchess Outreach, the County has provided meals and a safe space, allowing for more social distancing. Among other outreach efforts, members of the Medical Reserve Corps of Dutchess County have administered free flu shots for guests at the PODS; the Department of Behavioral and Community Health (DBCH) has provided mental health resources; and the Department of Community and Family Services (DCFS) has provided supportive services.

In 2021, the use of the PODS will continue while a more permanent solution is developed. County Executive Molinaro’s Executive Budget includes nearly $900,000 in funding, in addition to $1 million in United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant funding that was directed to Hudson River Housing to continue to serve individuals experiencing homelessness in the PODS and provide 24/7 staffing. This partnership will allow for the continued centralization of services, including case management to assist individuals in transitioning to permanent housing. The use of the PODS as a homeless shelter also allows Webster House, the former overnight emergency shelter, to be converted to transitional housing, which not only more appropriately uses that space, but meets one of County Executive Molinaro’s goals by expanding access to transitional housing.

Among the County Executive’s other new initiatives in his 2021 Executive Budget:

● Addressing homelessness requires a focus on preventing homelessness and diverting individuals from shelters to more sustainable housing options. DCFS continues to help individuals experiencing a housing crisis to identify alternatives, such as aiding in resolving disputes with landlords. The Department’s diversion programs often provide supportive services referrals, including limited financial assistance to cover back rent or move-in costs. Additionally, $140,000 in State grant funding is being directed to Hudson River Housing to help individuals in-need cover their rental arrears. The County also expects to use a significant amount of resources (up to $800,000) from the federal CDBG-CV grant to cover rental arrears to stabilize families at risk of eviction.

● To further Dutchess County’s goal of preventing and overall increasing the efficiency of housing service, the 2019 workgroup identified creating a single point of contact as critical reform. With the support of a $100,000 HUD grant, Dutchess County is partnering with the United Way’s 211 helpline and local housing service agencies to create a centralized entry point for eviction prevention, transitional housing information and other related support services. This will allow individuals-in-need a simpler way to connect with services and allow for greater coordination of such services across agencies and networks.

Just as important as diversion and prevention, is understanding the barriers to permanent housing, as well as a commitment to eliminate those barriers. Housing case management helps individuals experiencing complex sets of social, substance use and family challenges address these issues thereby promoting greater housing stability and preventing homelessness. Another critical barrier is the availability of affordable housing — a major focus of the 2019 workgroup. The COVID-related exodus from New York City has put even further pressure on the housing supply in Dutchess County.

To further the critical work of creating affordable housing, County Executive Molinaro’s 2021 Executive Budget also provides:

● Funding for the County’s Department of Planning and Development to conduct a housing needs assessment, which will provide critical data about the community’s housing needs and allow for the County’s policies, strategies, and goals to be data-driven. This project will be part of a larger initiative within the planning department to engage with the public, local leaders and the development community on the need for and how to create a more diverse housing stock in the County.

● $100,000 in seed funding for the Dutchess County and City of Poughkeepsie Land Bank, which will allow both the County and the City to return vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties in the community to productive use creating opportunities for more affordable housing projects.

● Creation of a Deputy Commissioner for Housing, who will focus on addressing our community’s challenges regarding affordable housing and homelessness issues. Anne Saylor, the Department of Planning and Development’s current Community Development Administrator, will assume this role and lead the County’s efforts to find solutions to address the transitional housing needs and appropriate support services, which will allow individuals to move to and maintain permanent housing and independent living.

County Executive Molinaro will release his 2021 Executive Budget Address online at http://www.DutchessNY.gov on Wednesday, Oct. 28th in advance of the Nov. 1st deadline required by the Dutchess County Administrative Code. Later that evening at 5:30 p.m., County Executive Molinaro and Budget Director Jessica White will host a countywide Tele-Town Hall, which residents can access by calling (845) 765-7121 or watching on the Dutchess County Government Facebook page. Residents will have the opportunity to participate in the live conversation about the 2021 Executive Budget, learn key details, ask questions and share feedback. County Executive Molinaro will also host a series of virtual 2021 Executive Budget town hall forums during the month of November.

Author: Harlem Valley News