Homeless Veterans:

Management Improvements Could Help VA Better Identify Supportive-Housing Projects

GAO-17-101: Published: Dec 21, 2016. Publicly Released: Dec 21, 2016.

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  • GAO Interactive Graphic
    INTERACTIVE GRAPHICS: Housing for Homeless Veterans through VA's Enhanced-Use Lease Program

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Contact:

David J. Wise
(202) 512-2834
wised@gao.gov

 

Alicia P. Cackley
cackleya@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
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What GAO Found

As of September 2016, for veterans who were homeless or at risk of homelessness, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had developed 35 enhanced-use leases (EUL) for supportive-housing with low cost rental housing and coordinated access to medical, rehabilitative, mental healthcare, and other services. Each supportive-housing EUL is located on a VA medical center campus. Some lessee representatives told GAO that having access to federal property at little or no cost helped them to rehabilitate or build facilities to create supportive-housing. Furthermore, they noted that the close proximity to VA healthcare services allowed them to invest in other needed services for homeless veterans, such as counseling, job training, and quality-of-life amenities.

VA has plans to develop additional supportive-housing EULs, 6 of which are under construction and 16 in development. However, VA needs to improve its documentation and update its policies to develop additional EULs. VA officials did not provide clear and complete documentation for the selection of supportive-housing EUL projects, as required by VA policy, and Standards for Internal Controls in the Federal Government. Completely documenting this decision-making process for selecting properties could provide institutional knowledge to inform future decisions. Also, Standards for Internal Controls in the Federal Government states that management should periodically review policies and procedures for continued relevance and effectiveness of a federal program, and that management considers the impact of deficiencies identified in achieving documentation requirements. VA's existing policy on EUL projects is outdated. For example, it refers to an EUL authority that previously allowed the development of a full range of EUL projects. However, this authority is no longer in effect. VA is updating its EUL policy; however, the updated draft policy still does not discuss VA's limited authority to provide housing for homeless veterans. Further, the updated draft policy does not specifically provide direction on how to determine whether a proposed supportive-housing EUL meets the needs of homeless veterans. Without documented policies and procedures that address these needs, VA may not be well positioned to identify viable supportive-housing EUL projects and help ensure that those projects are successfully developed.

Three programs—Housing and Urban Development and VA Supportive-Housing (HUD-VASH), VA's Grant and Per Diem (GPD), and Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF)—were used in conjunction with supportive-housing EULs to help support the goal of ending veteran homelessness. From fiscal years 2012 to 2016, the number of chronically homeless and vulnerable veterans housed through the HUD-VASH program increased from about 37,000 to 72,500. Community officials GAO interviewed stated that the HUD-VASH program has been instrumental in reducing chronic veteran homelessness. From fiscal years 2012 to 2016, veterans served by the transitional housing-focused GPD program remained relatively steady. Veterans and their family members participating in the SSVF program increased from about 33,000 in fiscal year 2012 to 149,000 in fiscal year 2016. According to the VA, rental assistance made up the majority of the temporary financial assistance provided by the SSVF program.

Why GAO Did This Study

In August 2016, HUD and VA announced that the number of homeless veterans in the United States had been cut nearly in half since 2010 to less than 40,000. Part of this effort is the EUL program, which uses unneeded federal property (land or buildings) for housing for homeless veterans.

GAO was asked to review VA's EUL program and other efforts to end veteran homelessness. This report examines: (1) how VA uses EULs to provide supportive-housing and services, (2) VA's plans to develop additional supportive-housing through EULs and how past plans have been implemented, and (3) how HUD-VASH, GPD, and SSVF have helped support the goal of ending veterans' homelessness. GAO analyzed agency documents, VA data on enhanced-use leases, and VA data on the HUD-VASH, GPD, and SSVF programs. GAO visited 13 active supportive-housing EUL sites, selected to provide a range of locations and housing types. GAO interviewed VA and HUD officials, lessee representatives, service providers, and veteran organizations.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that VA (1) document its decision-making process in selecting projects as required by VA's policy and (2) update its policy to address the current authority and specify how to identify properties for supportive-housing EULs to meet the needs of homeless veterans. VA concurred with both recommendations but disagreed with some of GAO's findings. GAO believes its findings are valid based on the evidence presented.

For more information, contact David J. Wise, (202) 512-2834 or wised@gao.gov or Alicia Puente Cackley, (202) 512-8678 or cackleya@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2016, GAO reported that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had developed 35 enhanced-use leases (EUL) for supportive-housing for homeless veterans with low-cost rental housing and coordinated access to medical, rehabilitative, mental healthcare, and other services. VA had plans to develop additional supportive-housing EULs, 6 of which were under construction and 16 in development. However, VA needed to improve its documentation and update its policies to develop additional EULs. VA officials did not provide clear and complete documentation for the selection of supportive-housing EUL projects, as required by VA policy and Standards for Internal Controls in the Federal Government. Completely documenting this decision-making process for selecting properties could provide institutional knowledge to inform future decisions. Without documented policies and procedures that address these needs, VA may not be well positioned to identify viable supportive-housing EUL projects and help ensure that those projects are successfully developed. Therefore, GAO recommended that VA clearly and completely document the selection process for all supportive-housing EULs from pre-development through completion of VA's development phase in keeping with internal control standards and VA policy. In 2019, GAO confirmed that the updated EUL Handbook ensures that the selection process is clearly and completely documented. In 2017, VA updated its EUL Handbook to improve internal controls for documenting the selection process through completion of EUL projects. VA also updated the EUL Handbook stipulating the development of a concept paper that requires additional documentation, such as environmental or historic preservation issues, homeless population that will be served, potential project or financial support, and other topics. Subsequently, VA provided clear and complete documentation for two EUL projects that opened in Augusta, Georgia and Perry Point, Maryland in 2018. Both EUL projects documented their environmental issues, homeless population that would be served, and potential project support. Furthermore, the Augusta, Georgia EUL concept paper provided documentation involving utility access to the EUL site and other real property information. The Perry Point, Maryland EUL concept paper provided documentation on historic preservation issues, an evaluation of veterans housing needs, available supportive services, and potential financing sources for this project. With improved documentation, VA is in a better position to provide institutional knowledge to inform future decisions and help ensure that it is making the best decisions in identifying suitable housing for homeless veterans.

    Recommendation: To improve VA's supportive-housing EUL program and meet the needs of homeless veterans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Office of Asset Enterprise Management to clearly and completely document the selection process for all supportive-housing EULs from pre-development through completion of VA's development phase in keeping with internal control standards and VA policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2016, GAO reported that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had developed 35 enhanced-use leases (EUL) for supportive-housing with low cost rental housing and coordinated access to medical, rehabilitative, mental healthcare, and other services for homeless veterans. VA had plans to develop additional supportive-housing EULs, 6 of which were under construction and 16 in development. GAO also reported that existing VA policies for the EUL program were outdated and referenced the EUL authority from 1991 that allowed the development of a full range of EUL projects, which was no longer in effect. Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states that management should periodically review policies and procedures for continued relevance and effectiveness of a federal program, and that management considers the impact of deficiencies identified in achieving documentation requirements. At the time of GAO's review, VA was updating its EUL policy; however, the updated draft policy still did not discuss VA's limited authority to provide housing for homeless veterans. Furthermore, the updated draft policy did not specifically provide direction on how to determine whether a proposed supportive-housing EUL meets the needs of homeless veterans. Therefore, GAO recommended that VA update its EUL policy to (1) address the current authority for developing supportive-housing; and (2) specify how to identify properties for supportive-housing EULs to meet the needs of homeless veterans. In September 2017, VA updated EUL Directive 7415 and Handbook 7415-EUL program policies on establishing and managing EUL's -to reflect the current authority for supportive-housing and clarify the process to properly identify and screen potential EUL projects to meet the needs of veterans. The updated EUL Handbook states that the original EUL authority enacted in 1991 expired in 2011 and that in 2012, the EUL authority was reinstated but limited VA's authority to develop only supportive-housing EULs. In addition, VA's EUL authority is available in appendix 1 of the Handbook. Also the EUL Handbook specified how to identify properties for supportive-housing; for example, it includes a review of market conditions, such as homeless populations to be served, and services the population may require from the local medical center homeless coordinator. By updating its EUL Handbook, VA is in a better position to identify feasible projects under its current authority, thereby allowing the VA to expedite development of additional supportive-housing EULs.

    Recommendation: To improve VA's supportive-housing EUL program and meet the needs of homeless veterans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Office of Asset Enterprise Management to update its EUL policy to (1) address the current authority for developing supportive-housing; and (2) specify how to identify properties for supportive-housing EULs to meet the needs of homeless veterans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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