Saturday, October 31, 2015

Collective Impact, Backbone Organizations and System Leadership

This last week, on October 29, 2015, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Social Venture Partners Dallas, held their yearly bigBANG! This conference, "serves the citizens of Dallas by convening national and local experts to share ideas in innovation and social impact. These ideas spark into action, thus making 'doing good' better." It was held, once again, at Paul Quinn College, headed by the innovative Michael Sorrell. 

Michael Sorrell
(Courtesy of BigBANG!)
The conference featured so many great thinkers and great ideas, as it does every year. What stood out to me is that they really shined a spotlight on a concept we at MDHA talk about a lot, Collective Impact. It even featured the "father" of Collective Impact, Dr. John Kania. He spoke to the entire conference, and he also led a breakout session. We encourage you to educate yourself about this important concept, which there is no way to do justice to in a short piece. In a nutshell, what Collective Impact tells us is that real change does not come from the work of one more organization, with one more great idea. Real change comes out of organizations working together in a methodical fashion, following five essential concepts. One of these concepts is that the Collective Impact needs to be supported by a Backbone Organization.

John Kania
(Courtesy of BigBANG!)
Opening Doors, the national strategic plan to end homelessness, which we have highlighted here before, adopted these ideas, recognizing that making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring, will not happen if organizations work on their own. It won't even happen through superficial collaboration, which is NOT the same thing as Collective Impact. And, it won't happen without each community transforming the role of its Continuum of Care into an engine of Collective Impact, with its lead organization (here in Dallas - MDHA) into a true Backbone Organization.

Kania's breakout session introduced the new building block that sits atop the structure of Collective Impact, which he, Dr. Hal Hamilton and Dr. Peter Senge highlighted in a recent article. This concept is
System Leadership. What Kania first colorfully demonstrated in this fascinating session was what it is NOT. System Leadership is not about top down and/or centralized management. Instead, it is about bottom up and diffuse action throughout the system. It is key to the success of Collective Impact, and fits with the pithy observation about Collective Impact, that it is all about silver buckshot, not a silver bullet.

We encourage you to take a moment, and click through the links above to learn more about Collective Impact, Backbone Organizations, and System Leadership. Then click through to our
CoC Strategic Work Plan, and ask yourself, how can you support our Collective Impact, right here in Dallas and Collin Counties, to operationalize ending homelessness. You too can be part of what Kania, Hamilton and Senge call "co-creating the future." 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Macro and Micro Solutions for Affordable Housing in Dallas

As we established in the first two parts of this series, there are really two challenges that inhibit those with little means, from renting housing units – one macro and one micro. There is a general lack of adequate affordable housing – macro. Landlords are free to discriminate against low income renters, based on the source of their rental payments – micro.

Cindy J. Crain, in her first editorial opinion column in the Dallas Morning News, as President and CEO of MDHA, Cindy J. Crain: An effective homeless response system requires affordable housing, primarily discussed the I-45 tent city and the changes we need to make in developing an effective homeless response system. However, in the title, as well as in the final words of the piece, she reminded the community of the macro issue: “The cost of housing exceeds the incomes of thousands of households. The lack of safe, quality, affordable housing is the most daunting challenge to making homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring in Dallas and Collin counties.” And in the penultimate paragraph she pointed out the micro issue: “The pool of landlords willing to work with case managers and their clients who require subsidy and support shrinks as rental properties can secure higher rents from tenants who do not have the same degree of barriers. There are over 200 homeless veterans today who cannot find rental properties willing to accept their housing vouchers.”

As with most macro issues, a quick fix does not seem to be in the offing. These things take time, and necessitate buy-in and action from many different parties. Indeed, Steve Brown and the Dallas Morning News editorial staff pointed out a few months ago in Affordable-housing proposals have Dallas developers scrambling for bigger say, and Editorial: Dallas needs more affordable housing, just not like this, that though there seems to be unanimity in acknowledging the macro challenge, there is significant disagreement on how to solve it. The micro issue is easier to solve. So, while a recent agreement between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the City of Dallas does contain specific general steps that Dallas agreed to take with regard to the macro issue, its most concrete solution was in regard to the micro issue: “The City Manager and City Attorney will formally introduce to the Dallas city council for a public meeting and adoption an ordinance prohibiting source of income discrimination, including discrimination against Housing Choice Voucher holders.” At the time (early November 2014), Austin was well on its way to adopting such an ordinance, which it formally adopted unanimously, just five weeks later. With that, the micro issue in Austin seemed solved, and Dallas had a clear example of how to quickly resolve the micro issue, while methodically attacking the macro issue. What happened next, which we will address in the final post of this series, threw a wrench into that solution too.    

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Rent is Too Damn High or What is the Meaning of “Best”? (Part II of the Series That Began with Rents Rise)

If the near past and the present were not depressing enough for renters of lesser means, the Atlantic in a recent darkly named article, A Bleak Future for Renters talks about what is next to come. The author Gillian B. White, cites a study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and Enterprise Community Partners, which predicts a rise of 4 million people in the renting population, and a total of 13 million people being severely rent-burdened (i.e. spending 50% or more of their income on rent) by 2025. The study’s researchers also predict that due to multiple factors, including but not limited to: stagnant wages, low vacancy rates, limited rental housing stock, and decreased rates of homeownership, minorities, Millennials, and the elderly will be hardest hit.
Dr. Chris Herbert, Managing Director of the Harvard Joint Center
(Courtesy of the Harvard Joint Center)
Digging deeper, specifically here in Dallas, limited single family housing stock may be the cause for the decreased rates of homeownership. Earlier this month in D Magazine’s D CEO, in an article titled, The Year's Best Real Estate Projects, Christine Perez, cited a shortage of construction workers and those who could manage them, as the drivers of this shortage. The former, an executive she interviews says, may due to the Great Recession have pushed into different lines of work, or have returned to Mexico, while the latter have opted for office jobs in place of the trades. The economic slowdown seems too have also trimmed government apparatuses devoted to project approvals, which puts a further crimp on the number of projects getting through the pipeline.

Though Perez cites these reasons as those behind the shortage of single family housing stock, one might surmise that these could have an effect on multifamily housing construction too. Regardless, Perez does say that this shortage itself puts more pressure on the multifamily housing market. She quotes Steve Bancroft, of Trammel Crow Residential, who says, “By most accounts, this is the best multifamily market that Dallas-Fort Worth has ever seen.” Perez fails to mention that, of course, the word “best”, used here and in the title of the article, is from the developers’ point of view. This situation is not exactly the “best” for those in the market for a rental unit, especially if they are struggling. And so unsurprisingly, Perez admits that, “Ongoing (rent) increases likely will compel renters to begin considering other options,” even, she says, “doubling with a roommate.”

Speaking with The Washington Post’s Emily Badger, two of the above Harvard study’s authors are ready to sound the alarm, even if D CEO is not. The effect, they say, will cascade from renters to others they interact with. “Money pooled in the hands of landlords, doesn't circulate through the economy with the same impact as money spent at local retailers and grocery stores,” one says, while the other, “suggests there may be serious health costs associated with a population that has to sacrifice health spending to pay the rent.” And so, Badger ends her piece with an ominous warning from one of the scholars, “In certain places, we’re probably getting close to the breaking point for a lot of folks, and I don’t know how that plays out."
Earnest Burke, Plano Housing Authority
(Courtesy of WFAA)
With all of this in the background nationally and locally, should we really be surprised with the Kafkaesque story of Navy veteran, Jermaine Williams? If all you read was the title of the WFAA report, you would be forgiven for thinking that a junior editor forgot to fix a typo: Navy vet gets to use housing assistance, after 70 tries. If only. The piece by Jobin Panicker tells the story of Williams, who after a long episode of homelessness received a voucher from the Plano Housing Authority, only to find that a housing voucher did not equal housing. Panicker quotes Earnest Burke, with the Plano Housing Authority, who blames the over-saturation of the rental housing market throughout North Texas for Williams’ woes. Out of the 15 vouchers he gave out, only three veterans actually landed housing*, as “apartments are filling up and becoming more selective of potential tenants.” More selective means, that landlords can (legally), and indeed do refuse to rent an apartment to someone like Williams, due to the source of that rent money, Uncle Sam. In the next installment of this series, we will discuss how government could save people like Williams from the trials and travails of searching for months, spending hundreds of dollars in application fees, just to find an apartment.  

* I reached out to Burke, for an update on how many additional veterans have been housed in the four weeks since September 30, 2015, the date of the WFAA story, but have yet to hear back. I will update on the blog, when I do hear back.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dallas-Collin Continuum of Care Enters Final and Critical Stages in Adopting Pieces Iris™ as its Single Homeless Management Information System

The Dallas-Collin Continuum of Care (CoC) manages the community’s response to the experience and risk of homelessness. One of its most important roles in this capacity is to operate a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to collect critical data and drive improvement in homeless services. In its CoC Strategic Work Plan – Building an Effective Homeless Response System, the CoC sets as of its most important goals the development of a single HMIS system, into which all homeless service providers, including shelters and outreach street teams, would consistently enter their data. After all, we, as a community, can’t know anything meaningful about the true nature of homelessness if we don’t have unsheltered and emergency sheltered data in one data collection system.

As the CoC leadership surveyed the landscape, one obvious partner stood out in the need to take its HMIS to the next level, PCCI, a non-profit born out of the Parkland Health and Hospital System. PCCI founded DallasPCCI Information Exchange Portal (IEP). It describes this initiative on its website as follows:

Different providers in the healthcare system and across community-based organizations have limited means of communication, causing vital patient information to slip through the cracks, information that is essential to providing excellent healthcare or even saving a life. The Dallas Information Exchange Portal (IEP) will create a secure seamless system that connects healthcare and community-based organizations in the Dallas region, allowing for smart sharing of information that makes a tangible difference in the lives of first thousands but, ultimately, we hope millions of people.

Integrating information from social and healthcare organizations will provide quality and safe healthcare for the broadest range of citizens in our community. The IEP will provide a higher, more consistent level of healthcare to all members of the community, especially the most vulnerable populations, resulting in more efficient, cost-effective use of resources and, most importantly, lives saved.

Ruben Amarasingham
PCCI President and CEO
PCCI built their Pieces Iris™ software solution to HMIS specifications, and they knew they needed the CoC for the system to truly work. The CoC recognized that Pieces Iris™ is designed as a cut above all other HMIS systems in existence today. It represents the only known effort of building a new HMIS, case management, coordinated access and resource inventory on a new platform. PCCI’s Dallas IEP and the CoC see this as a symbiotic relationship. The Dallas IEP needs the cohort of persons experiencing homelessness within their integrated system as they represent some of the community’s highest risk and most costly patients. They need the homeless service providers’ network to extend the continuity of care for these patients. For the last few months PCCI and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA), the CoC’s lead agency, have been working together on a process of discovery to figure out if such a partnership was feasible, and building out the system, per MDHA’s client specifications and preferences.

Significant progress has been made in the development of the HMIS template within the Pieces Iris™ software. MDHA’s HMIS team worked with the PCCI development team to combine the HMIS data collection and reporting system required of multiple federal and state funding authorities with enhanced interface, functionality and reporting innovations. All CoC stakeholders from leadership to end users have been reviewing the application in meetings and demonstrations, before the MDHA board considers a resolution to select Pieces Iris™ as the next single HMIS software solution for the community at its board meeting on November 12th.

As we enter the final and critical stage of this process, there remain three key events:
  • 10/30/15 – 9am-noon – Pieces Iris™ as HMIS Play Day Hands on demonstrations for end users on Pieces Iris™ software (PCCI Offices - 8435 N. Stemmons Freeway, Ste 1150, Dallas)
  • 11/6/15 – 9-11am - Demonstration and Public Hearing of Pieces Iris™ as the new HMIS software solution (Center for Community Cooperation, Oak Corner Room, 2900 Live Oak St. , Dallas)
  • 11/12/15 – 9-11am – MDHA Board of Directors meeting - resolution to select Pieces Iris™ as the next single HMIS software solution for the community to be considered
Dr. Ruben Amarasingham, Founder, President and CEO of PCCI and the co-inventor of the Pieces IRIS™ software system will join us for the final two events. Amarasingham is a noted expert in the development and evaluation of health information technology, the application of informatics concepts in healthcare, and the use of innovative care models to reduce disparities, improve quality, and lower costs. The CoC leadership and MDHA Board of Directors and staff, as well as PCCI’s leadership, encourage community stakeholders to join us and participate in all three of these important events.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rents Rise

One would think that ending one’s homelessness would be fairly quick and easy, once one had a housing voucher, provided by a government program. Over the course of the next few blog posts, we will explore this proposition, why in fact this might not be the case, possible solutions, and what stands in the way of these solutions. Along the way, we will touch on the state of the housing rental market, in general, and how the lack of affordable housing can contribute to homelessness.

Jonathan Chew titles a recent article in Fortune quite straightforwardly, Why rents could rise by 8% in 2016, citing a survey representing hundreds of thousands of units. No need for an advanced degree in economics to figure out why.  As, Chew says, “The reasons are manifold, but 64% of landlords surveyed identified two main factors: the twin pressures of increased demand for units and low inventory.” High demand, plus low supply, regardless of the widget being demanded and supplied, equals higher prices.

One reason this problem might be exacerbated in Dallas, could have to do with the age old dilemma, for those with the means to make a choice, of renting vs. buying. Three Florida based scholars Drs. Eli Beracha, William G. Hardin and Ken H. Johnson, have developed the eponymously named “BH&J Buy vs Rent Index”. As they describe on the Index website, it is “designed to signal whether current market conditions favor buying or renting a home in terms of wealth creation over a fixed holding period in a particular market relative to historical market conditions and alternative investment opportunities.” Right now, the index indication for Dallas, unlike for most of the country, is clear: Rent; don’t buy.

The numbers are pretty. As the site Rent Jungle tells us, “As of August 2015, average apartment rent within 10 miles of Dallas, TX is $1502. One bedroom apartments in Dallas rent for $1263 a month on average and two bedroom apartment rents average $1796.” For comparison, according to the site, as recently as January 2012, these numbers stood at $967, $977 and $894 respectively.
In fact, according to Steve Brown in the Dallas Morning News in his recent article, Soaring Dallas apartment costs haven’t put a dent in rentals, there could be a more permanent and fundamental shift at work here, then just renting until it makes more sense to buy. As he says of a recent trend in a growing number of Downtown and Uptown rental properties, “Most of their new renters — a combination of young professionals and affluent empty nesters — could save money buying a house in the suburbs.” These people are instead choosing lifestyle and proximity to downtown, over homeownership, Brown says. He quotes “Dallas developer Lucy Billingsley,” who says, “We know we have lifetime renters who will be with us now.” As Brown emphasizes, “A generation ago, apartments in Dallas were the waiting rooms for homeownership. That’s not the case anymore.”

At the same time, Brown also points out that some of the pressure comes from rental customers coming to Dallas, because in comparison to other cities on the coasts, and even Chicago, Denver, Atlanta and Minneapolis, Dallas is still a bargain. Therefore, not surprisingly, according to Bloomberg News, as cited in Finance and Commerce, “U.S. commercial real estate investors are looking inland. The Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas, prized for its diverse job market and success luring companies that are relocating, ranked as the top area for commercial-property investment in a survey of almost 1,500 real estate executives, according to a report Wednesday by the Urban Land Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP... while the big coastal cities of New York, San Francisco and Boston, traditional magnets for buyers, were deemed less attractive.” It goes without saying, that this competition coming in can make things more difficult for those already here with less mean, less skills, and less mobile lives. And all of these developments lead to an obvious problem, which we will delve deeper into in our next post, “The Rent is Too Damn High!”

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Why, the How, and the What of the Dallas Homeless Response System

What is MDHA?
The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) is a non-profit organization leading the development of an effective homeless response system that will make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring.

How do you do that?
Research shows that the only way to make real progress is through collective impact – many organizations working together to achieve common goals. Research further shows that you need a strong backbone organization, like MDHA, to lead the collective impact, in order for it to work. MDHA brings together more than 85 shelter, housing and supportive services programs in retooling homeless services into a crisis response system.

What does that really mean?
It means that we ask one question about each individual requiring our help: “What solutions best match the needs of this person or household, and will end their homelessness quickly and permanently?” We then ensure that we, as a system, deliver those solutions.

Why you?
Federal regulations (codified into law in 2009) have long mandated that each community have a Continuum of Care (CoC) organization, led by a lead agency, to facilitate funding and coordinate services for housing programs for the homeless. Most federally funded programs must report into a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), to drive program improvement.  MDHA is the CoC lead agency and HMIS administrator for Dallas and Collin Counties. Under the 2009 HEARTH Act and Opening Doors, the national strategic plan to end homelessness, CoCs were imbued with an enhanced role: Transforming homeless services into crisis response systems that prevent homelessness and rapidly return people who experience homelessness to stable housing.

How does that work?
Building an effective homeless response system involves many different moving parts. We suggest checking Opening Doors and our CoC Strategic Workplan to get the full picture. Here are just two examples of how we are building that homeless response system:

Coordinated Access System (CAS) – In an uncoordinated environment, every service provider asks, "Will this person be successful in our program?" Assessment is diverse as service providers are, and less vulnerable persons with less severe needs are often served first. The most vulnerable with the greatest needs, are often turned away, and may fall through the cracks. In CAS, the system asks, “What solutions best match the needs of this person or household, and will end their homelessness quickly and permanently?" CAS assesses each person using a uniform evidence based tool, and every person is scored, ranked and prioritized for service, based on their level of vulnerability and specific needs. CAS then matches each person with the solutions that are the best fit for them, and ensures that those solutions are delivered, according the established prioritization. MDHA is in the process of implementing a CAS for Dallas and Collin Counties.

Flex Fund – The answer to that simple question: “What solutions best match the needs of this person, and will end their homelessness quickly and permanently," is often, “Really easy solutions!” Many persons experiencing homelessness could quickly self-resolve their housing emergencies. The only thing holding them back is that they need a photo ID, a bus pass or their medication. Or maybe, they just need a quick car repair, a few household furnishings or some work related items. These needs are often not covered by existing programs, and though they might only cost a little money, these persons cannot pay for them. A Flex Fund is designed to fund exactly these types of minor but impactful expenses. MDHA is currently piloting the new MDHA Flex Fund.

Where do we go from here?
Opening Doors clarifies that ending homelessness does not mean no one will ever experience homelessness. It means that we, and every other community around the country, will have a systematic response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible or is otherwise a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience. It sets four key goals for each community and the nation as a whole: (1) Prevent and end homelessness among Veterans in 2015; (2) Finish the job of ending chronic homelessness in 2017; (3) Prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children in 2020; and (4) Set a path to end all types of homelessness.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Not Without Simon – Another Happy Flex Fund Story

As a reader of this blog, you are probably well aware of the hard work the Outreach Taskforce has been doing to connect the residents of the tent city under I-45 to housing. You can refresh your memory by reading this detailed blog post: (Really) Coping With Tent City (and Homelessness, In General) by Building an Effective Homeless Response System. Our good friend, Tasha Tsiaperas, of the Dallas Morning News has written a number of excellent pieces about this, the most recent one being: Homeless live by a code in I-45 'Tent City,' but Dallas wants them cleared out. Earlier this week, the Dallas Morning News ran this “vidatorial”: Inside Tent City: Why the city needs urgency in dealing with the homeless camp under I-45, where we got to hear from Rebecca Cox, MDHA Vice President, as well as from the Reverends Larry James and Jonathan Grace, of CitySquare, about this important work, as well as from some of the residents themselves.

One of the important new tools we use in helping these and other folks, who are experiencing homelessness, is the MDHA Flex Fund. We have written about this on our website, in the blog post mentioned at the beginning of this post, and elsewhere on this blog. Also, Courtney Collins interviewed Cindy J. Crain, MDHA President and CEO about this: Losing An Apartment Because You Can’t Pay The $45 Application Fee.

Last week Rebecca shared another cool story about how the MDHA Flex Fund is paying for a minor but impactful expense, that is helping a person resolve her housing emergency. If you have a pet, you know that that little guy or gal is a member of your family. Imagine you lost pretty much everything, but your little four legged “son” stuck with you through thick and thin. Well, Judith* does not need to imagine that. For the last five years she has lived on the street, most recently in the tent city under I-45. Her little Chihuahua, Simon, has been by her side (actually, usually cradled in her arms!) the whole time. Due to her hard work with Rev. Grace, she is now moving into an apartment, where ABC Behavioral Health will help her with everything she needs to rebuild her life. However, last week, with everything ready to go, Rev. Grace ran into a final but serious stumbling block.

The apartment complex, as is true with many apartment complexes, requires a pet deposit. No big deal, right? Many of us have been there. Well, for Judith, the $43.75 required for the pet deposit is a big deal. She does not have that kind of money. As is typical, the grant under which ABC Behavioral Health will ably serve Judith, cannot be used to pay for pet deposits. In fact, Rev. Grace could not find any existing funding source for pet deposits. And yet, this very small but impactful expense is what stood between Judith (and Simon!) continuing to live under I-45 and moving into an apartment.  Rev. Grace filled out an MDHA Flex Fund request form, where he documented all of this, sent it to Rebecca, and she had a check cut to the apartment complex. Judith and Simon still have a journey ahead of them, but now with the help of the Outreach Taskforce, ABC Behavioral Health and the MDHA Flex Fund, they are on the right track to “happily ever after…”

*Judith and Simon’s names have been changed to protect their privacy. Likewise, photo is of another really cute Chihuahua!