FY18 ACS Advocacy Priority Issues and Plan
The Association of Community Services (ACS) has a long history of advocacy on behalf of Howard County’s non-profit human and social service, cultural, environmental and faith-based organizations and the individuals and families that they serve. ACS advocacy includes community wide education, bringing together decision makers to resolve issues, testimony and other means of communicating ACS positions on matters before local and state legislators.
In 2017-2018, specific ACS advocacy initiatives will include:
1. Working with community partners to reach the goal of 150 new housing units for Howard County households that earn less than $60,000. The most recent Rental Housing Survey conducted by the Department of Housing and Community Development reports that 9,900 rental households (33% of all Howard County households) have incomes below $50,000. Having only 3200 units in the county with rents affordable to households earning at this level creates a shortage of 6700 housing units. This means that human service and health care workers, child care providers, retail and hospitality workers, maintenance and other occupational groups essential to our community’s economic infrastructure—and upon whom our resident’s rely—cannot afford to live in the community where they work. And County residents earning less than $60,000 are spending 40-50 percent of their income on rent making them among the most economically and socially vulnerable in our community. Coordinated System of Homeless Services (CSHS) data show that the availability of 150 new affordable housing units would make a substantive contribution to moving households from CSHS and other County resource support to economic self-sufficiency.
2. Working with the County Executive and Departmental and Council leadership to achieve FY 2019 funding for 15 new Housing Stability Subsidy Program (HSSP) vouchers as a continuing step toward a long-term goal of 150 HSSP vouchers. The Coordinated System of Homeless Services (CSHS) helped more than 400 households avoid or end their homelessness in FY 2016. In FY 2017, an average of 18 households each month exited CSHS to stable housing. Despite this good news, the System is not on a path that will end homelessness in Howard County. Many more households enter CSHS each month than exit it due to insufficient resources, particularly case managers, short-term/emergency financial assistance and vouchers that make housing affordable. Consequently, the number of households awaiting CSHS help has steadily grown, reaching almost 300 in FY 2016. Without question, the best and most cost-effective resolution to homelessness is the availability of affordable housing. Informal analysis of CSHS data indicate that an estimated 150 CSHS people who are either receiving or on the waiting list to receive CSHS supports could not pay full or partial rent of an affordable unit even if it was available. Their limited fixed incomes, permanent health or disabilities issues or other challenges require some level of subsidy, long-term or perhaps permanently, to resolve their homelessness. The past three years of experience with CSHS Housing Stability Program (HSSP) vouchers has resulted in 17 households being taken from the “homeless” roles. We know the subsidy solution is effective and less costly than ongoing reliance on county homeless services. An investment of $300,000 for an additional 15 HSSP vouchers would be a major step toward the ultimate goal of 150 subsidies and the virtual elimination of individuals on the CSHS waiting list that require subsidized, affordable housing.
3. Contributing to County planning and implementation to improve low income, senior, disabled and student access to transportation that facilitates their employment, medical and social needs. County Administration is working diligently to ensure that Howard County residents are well served as a regional transportation system evolves. It is equally important that local routes are available where and when they can best serve low-income and special needs populations. County focus and support should assure that bus stops are ADA compliant and that schedules are reliable. As a starting point: all County bus stops: should have a concrete pad to stand on and be sidewalk accessible for families with children, persons with disabilities and seniors; bus schedules should enable our community’s disabled and low-wage workers to get to their jobs on time; and waiting times should be reduced on one or two of the routes that would be most helpful to more efficiently get people from their County homes to their jobs here in the community.
4. Increasing County and business leadership awareness of the need for and opportunities to expand current or create new affordable childcare opportunities for low-income workers. The cost of affordable quality childcare (full day and before and after school) is consistently the second highest cost (behind housing) of Howard County moderate and low income households. In 2015, the average annual cost for center-based care for children aged 0-23 months was about $17,577; for school-aged children before and after school, it was about $5,907. Almost 600 children in about 300 families received childcare subsidies in 2016. Work productivity suffers when workers do not have reliable, safe childcare. Academic achievement is challenged when children do not have the benefit of quality, curricular-based daycare. Household self-sufficiency is threatened when parents must constantly choose between rent, childcare, food, transportation and healthcare; disposable income for non-essentials such as clothing, sports programs and entertainment is non-existent. New strategies that would result in greater access to affordable, quality childcare would be a major contribution to the economically vulnerable in our community.
5. Ensuring that government, foundation and business leadership, and the general public understand the necessity for operations funding—at current levels—to support nonprofit staffing and operations. Foundation, business and other funding sources do not always provide for the overhead costs required to create the new, or maintain the ongoing, programs that they fund. This underinvestment puts at risk success of the funded programming and creates negative outcomes that undermine the quality and sustainability of the organization. Such outcomes can include: limited or no staff for administrative roles (e.g., finance, development); limited investment in staff training/development; inexperienced staff (high turnover; poor quality work); and outdated, inefficient information technology, donor and performance management systems. Underfunding staff and infrastructure are inconsistent with responding to grantors and donors who increasingly are requiring performance accountability for their investments. Further, nonprofits—as with any other business—cannot be high functioning, sustainable organizations if consistently operating with no, or only marginal, investment in personnel and systems that do not keep pace with current business practices.
Approved by the ACS Board of Directors on September 28, 2017