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.

ACS monitors and participates in community and state regulatory and legislative discussions in the areas that will lead to:

  • A strong nonprofit infrastructure capable of responding to community need
  • Creation and maintenance of new low and moderate income housing units and housing subsidies as contributions to providing housing options for special needs populations and ending homelessness in Howard County
  • Increased access to affordable, quality childcare for low-wage workers
  • Safe and accessible public transportation for low income, senior, disabled and student community residents
  • Sustained access to quality, affordable healthcare including insurance, prescription drugs and behavioral health services, as well as improved health and wellness for Howard County residents

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. 

The County’s Moderate Income Housing Unit (MIHU) program and other initiatives of the Housing Department and Housing Commission are developing new units and redeveloping properties to preserve current affordable units, but the intransient affordable housing gap continues. New strategies and investments are required to make progress on closing the gap.

Why ACS?

ACS has been a consistent advocate for affordable housing for low and median income Howard County families.   Ongoing advocacy remains important as the need for such housing has not abated and continues to affect the stability of ACS member clients.

Action Plan

a.       Continue participation with community partners to redevelop the Columbia Flier building into a mixed-use property that creates 40 to 50 new housing units for Howard County households earning less than $60,000. 

b.       Support the County’s Moderate Income Housing Unit (MIHU) program, including use of fee-in-lieu funding to generate new housing opportunities.

c.       Monitor and participate as appropriate in DHCD monthly Housing Board meetings and discussions of Columbia Village redevelopment.

d.       Publicize housing related Self-Sufficiency Indicators Report data.

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.


Why ACS?

a.       The organizations providing services to the PEH are ACS members

b.       The persons and families to be helped by the Plan are often clients of ACS members, before, during and after their homelessness.

c.       The Committee to End Homelessness, which wrote the Plan in 2010, is no longer functioning and cannot serve its original advocacy role.

d.       ACS member agencies are in a challenging position to be advocates.  They are busy providing services to the Plan and, as CSP grant recipients, have little incentive to speak in a way that might be misconstrued as critical of the funder.  

e.       Other than ACS, there is no apparent group with the credibility, contacts and resources to effectively advocate for the Plan.

Action Plan

a.       Develop a strong case for increase HSSP subsidies: data; success stories, etc.

b.       Make case for additional subsidies to County Executive/staff no later than end of November.

c.       Promote Department inclusion of increased HSSP subsidies in FY 2019 submitted budget.  

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.

Action Plan

a.     PPC member to serve on the newly created Transit and Pedestrian Advisory Group.

b.     Quarterly meetings with Office of Transportation staff to monitor and comment on use of FY 2018 funding to improve bus routes and bus stop facilities and locations.

c.     FY 2019 budget testimony to support ongoing funding for bus stop and other transit improvements.

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.

Why ACS?

The nonprofit community and Howard County government have recently invested substantial assets into creating a consolidated human services community resources campus. Every indication is that this model is successful and further expansion of the campus is expected, however there is a gap in one type of resource located on the campus - childcare. Clients who are seeking services at the various organizations need the ability to drop off their children for supervised care while they attend appointments, search for housing, go on job interviews or take a class.

 ACS has taken the first steps to explore the feasibility of establishing a childcare program to serve staff at and clients of the Nonprofit Collaborative Center and new Human Services Campus.   An ACS/Leadership Howard County Premier Class Community Impact Project team will review current county data and reports detailing childcare needs and challenges, conduct stakeholder interviews and research childcare business models.

Action Plan

a.     Use findings and recommendations of the LHC CIP project to foster conversations with county and business leadership about the need to expand or establish more affordable childcare opportunities throughout the county.


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.

Why ACS?

ACS’ collective voice can amplify individual member organizations ongoing call for operating funds.   Increased investment in staff and infrastructure across the nonprofit community will strengthen ACS members’ capacity to meet their missions and, hopefully, their commitment to ACS.

Action Plan

a.     Solicit experiences and data from ACS members regarding past few years operations costs and funding (level? increasing? decreasing?), their ability to hire, retain and reward (e.g., provide raises) experienced, quality staff.

b.     Based on what ACS members tell us, develop an issue paper for use by ACS members in their fundraising activities.

c.     Include in FY 2019 budget Community Service Partnership discussions with the Administration and County Council (1) a call for support of increased funding for staff raises and hiring, and (2) support for the new CSP one-time awards for infrastructure investment.  

d.     Continue to advocate for multi-year Community Service Partnership grants for agencies deemed essential to the County’s social service support network.

e.     Update the ACS “Economic Value of Howard County Nonprofits” advocacy piece.

f.      Tell the story:  Business Monthly philanthropy issue article; FY 18 budget testimony; seek other opportunities; put “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong” Ted Talk on ACS website.

6.     Provide the community and public officials data upon which to base policy decisions and establish resource allocation priorities.

Since 2008, ACS has published the Self-Sufficiency Indicators Report (SSIR) to help inform the Howard County community about the number of our neighbors and colleagues who are at risk of economic and social instability.  The 2017 Report, will be the eighth edition and, as its predecessors, will be intended to contribute to data-driven public policy discussion and development that will lead to the most effective use of community resources to help resolve economic and social instability.

Why ACS?

The SSIR has evolved as one of ACS’s most visible contributions to the Howard County community.  It is the only data source that enables County leadership and the public to easily understand, current and longitudinal levels of public and private investment being made to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in our community.   Report data is used by ACS members for grant submissions and in their marketing/fundraising.  With the ongoing help of the PPC and two volunteers, updating and publication of the Report has minimal staff impact; and as the Report is distributed almost solely through online access, it has an insignificant budget impact.

Action Plan

a.       Release, in November, SSIR 8th Edition reflecting 2017 fiscal data; release update in March reflecting 2017 calendar year data.

b.       Continue to increase the efficiency of gathering and managing the data.

c.       Create new approaches to make the data more impactful for county leadership and the general public.

Approved by the ACS Board of Directors on September 28, 2

Association of Community Services

9770 Patuxent Woods Drive, Suite 301
Columbia, MD 21046

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