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Further Delay for Homeless Prevention Funds

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And then it was March.

With the cold winter months nearly over, more than half of federal stimulus funds slated for Ada County residents at risk of being turned out on the street are still sitting in a bank account.

The Idaho Housing and Finance Association, which distributes the bulk of Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program funds in Idaho, has $730,000 slated for Ada County but has not been able to figure out how to distribute the money.

As we reported in January, every other region of Idaho began distributing the funds in October 2009.

Zoe Ann Olson, an attorney at Idaho Legal Aid Inc., said that the state and City of Boise knew they would be getting this money a year ago, knew the amount in April 2009 but still have not figured out how to handle it.

"Our concern was that nothing had been done to facilitate that, and part of the HPRP regulations are to get the money out as quickly as possible," Olson said.

The glitch is that federal regulations prohibit IHFA from giving the money to an independent, for-profit housing authority like the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority. IHFA asked for a waiver of that rule and was denied.

Olson and Idaho Legal Aid have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, asking for a reconsideration of the waiver, but in the meantime, the City of Boise is taking another tack to get at the funds.

Just this week, the city published a request for proposals for an agency--most likely the housing authority--that could handle disbursement of the funds. The plan is for IHFA to grant the money to the city and the city hire out the services.

Jim Birdsall, who manages Boise's Housing and Community Development Department, said the waiver would be the "cleanest" route but that the most likely solution is for the city to act as a go-between. IHFA could also have sought another agency, perhaps a nonprofit, to run the HPRP program in Ada County.

The city has already distributed $530,000, through the housing authority and the El-Ada Community Action Partnership, that it received directly from the stimulus act. But that money is tapped out, and applications for further HPRP funds in Ada County have been put on hold pending the availability of the $730,000.

The first round of funding served about 270 people in about four and a half weeks, Birdsall said. The money goes to short-term rental and utility assistance for people who are at risk of becoming homeless or for those who have recently become homeless.

Olson said there should never have been a gap in the funding because all parties involved knew the available options from the beginning.

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