Journal of Housing & Community Development

Award of Excellence: Housing Our Heroes

March 28, 2019

The San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) wins a 2018 Award of Excellence in Affordable Housing for creating the “Housing Our Heroes” program to provide homeless veterans with safe and stable housing. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development. 

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, California is home to 29 percent of our country’s homeless veterans and two-thirds of them are unsheltered. To combat this widespread and complex problem, SDHC launched the “Housing Our Heroes” initiative with the City of San Diego to provide housing for sheltered and unsheltered homeless veterans. In 18 months, the program reached its initial goal of housing 1,000 veterans. 

Following the national “Housing First” model of addressing homelessness, the program provides housing as quickly as possible and then supportive services as needed to help get people healthy and back on their feet. SDHC and the City used approximately $12.5 million of federal, City and SDHC resources over two years to fund the initiative. 

Recruiting private landlords to participate in the program was a cornerstone to the program’s success. SDHC incentivized landlords by:  

  • Providing a $500 payment for the first apartment a landlord rented under the initiative and $250 for each additional unit;  
  • Creating a Contingency Fund of up to $1 million to help cover certain expenses, such as repairs that exceed security deposits or rent due to unforeseen vacancies.  

Over 430 individual landlords joined the program; approximately 45 percent of them were new to SDHC’s rental assistance programs. 

To house veterans as soon possible, SDHC went through a competitive Notice of Funding Availability process to award funds to nonprofit or for-profit service providers, allowing them to make rental assistance payments directly to landlords and cover move-in costs, such as security and utility deposits. SDHC also partnered with the VA San Diego Healthcare System to administer federal Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) Vouchers to provide rental assistance to honorably discharged veterans disabled experiencing chronic homelessness. 

After “Housing Our Heroes” was launched, SDHC noticed the amount of help that its participants needed to secure their rental housing. SDHC used Housing Navigators to assist participants with their search for housing and with the application process.  SDHC also awarded Sponsor-Based Housing Vouchers to organizations to provide their participants with supportive services such as mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment programs, and independent living skills classes, in addition to rental assistance.  

The program has had a lasting effect on the participating veterans’ lives. According to SDHC, “Daniel, a 56-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, lived in a homeless shelter for nearly two years before he moved into his own apartment with assistance from Housing Our Heroes in April 2017.”

The “Housing Our Heroes” program allowed Daniel to set personal goals such as “continuing to work at his security job for a shipping company, budget his money, save for the future and one day use a loan from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to purchase a home.”

SDHC is continuing the program and is expanding the landlord incentives for all homeless individuals in San Diego over the next three fiscal years.  

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