Bill Minkle from RCAP Solutions on Subsidies
Bill: Two programs that are not known about and not well known about, they’re complicated. There’s a lot of similarities between them, and they’re challenging at times. Hopefully tonight we’ll have the opportunity that you walk out of here with a good understanding. I brought a lot of information for you, and I’m hoping that I’ll have the opportunity to clarify some of the questions that you have with regard to both the HomeBASE Program and the RAFT Program, so there’s a lot of similarities.
I’ve been in RCAP for about 18 months, so I was brought in basically. I’m the senior vice-president and one of my primary responsibilities is client resources, and what I want to tell you tonight is I know some of you have had difficulties with some of our programs in the past, but we are in the process of retooling, restructuring, reworking, team building. We’re really restructuring the agency at this point.
One of the things that was very important in restructuring the agency is that we are now housed in Worcester. We still have our administrative and finance offices and property management offices in Gardner, but we hope that within the next year to a year and a half to consolidate and bring everything together, and it will all be housed in Worcester. It’s centrally located. We serve all of Worcester County plus some of the contiguous towns, so we’re centrally located now and more accessible and believe me when I tell you in terms of the accessibility, my office is full to capacity and over capacity every single day. We are really doing a lot of work that is addressing the needs of a lot of very needy people throughout the county.
Just so that you are aware of, the Rental Assistance program, the RAFT Program, the HomeBASE Program, and the S-Step Program, which is actually domestic violence scattered site shelter program, are all housed in the Worcester office right now.
One of the messages that I did want to get across tonight is that we are not the enemy. We are landowners, too. We are property managers, too. We have about 420 units of housing, so let me just say at the outset we get it. I’m really delighted and thank you for being here tonight because I’m delighted to see such a roomful of people of landlords because I really believe very strongly that information is necessary in order for us to all work together. We really want to partner with you. We want to work with you. We want to make your life better. We’re here to serve clients, but at the end of the day, we move money. That’s what we do. We pay you.
I’m going to talk about the structure of the agency and how these programs work. First of all, the entry point is the Housing Consumer Ed Center, and that is the intake point for all of our programs. We provide information through referral. We have housing counseling, pre-, post, and foreclosure counseling. We have workshops, budgeting, financial literacy, how to be a good – we do workshops on how to be a good tenant. We will be doing some more workshops. We haven’t done them for a while, but we will be doing one on how to be a good landlords, some of the things that Laurie talked about tonight, to help you so that you don’t have delays in payments and the process works smoothly for you. We see ourselves as partners.
The first program I’m going to talk about tonight is the HomeBASE Program. What is HomeBASE? HomeBASE is a program for people who are actually in shelter and/or in the hotel population. We, at RCAP, are serving primarily the hotel population through the HomeBASE program. Our folks right now we have 82 families that are in the Leominster Super 8, and we have seven families in the North Pro Econo Lodge. I will tell you – Laurie had mentioned about the MRVP program that as a resource – one of the things that the governor committed to is that he wants to end homelessness and he wants to start by closing all the hotels.
Among the ones that are targeted was the one in Leominster because there are a lot of families that are housed there. It’s one of the more heavily populated. He has some MRVP targeted to help people get out of shelter and provide a rental voucher for them. We will be within the next few weeks issuing, provided they are all eligible. There is an eligibility that everybody has to go through and if they are all eligible, we will be issuing 82 MRVP subsidies. Now I say that originating in the area, there were 16 that originated from Worcester County. Some came from all areas of the state, so we will be issuing those.
The other thing is, as Laurie mentioned, we two have roughly we’re pulling 500 names for Section 8 waiting list as well, so we have a lot of tenants the tenants that will be hitting the streets between the MRVP and the Section 8 program.
Rich: Bill, if I can break in for just a second, if you were to summarize the HomeBASE Program in like 60 seconds, what would you want us to know about it as far as how it works and what it is?
Bill: The most important thing for you to know about it is we’re providing a service to people who are homeless. That includes case management and stabilization. It provides up to $8,000 – and that’s the key – up to $8,000 in cash assistance. That cash assistance can be used for a number of things. The most important thing for you to know is these case managers, we have three of them, the case managers that we have will work with you. They’ll work with the landlords directly because we’re interested in stabilizing, getting these folks housed, but once they’re housed, keeping them housed and stabilizing them. Some of the money may be used for a shallow subsidy. That I think is the key of the program, the most important thing for you to know. The case managers – and I’ll give you their phone numbers and who they are ‑ very important – Tina [unintelligible 0:07:24] does a lot of landlord work for both programs, both HomeBASE and RAFT. That’s an important name to remember. With these questions, she can answer them.
Rich: Bill, you mentioned $8,000 and it can be used for a number of things.
Rich: We have one thing in mind in particular, which would be the rent. What would be some of those other things?
Bill: Okay, we have a holistic approach and we need to get people housed and stabilized. Some of the things that they can be used for are things like furniture. We can get $1,000 max on furniture, utilities and debt that they had owed that may preclude them from getting into a unit; moving assistance if they need help moving, plane tickets and travel expenses if the best option for them is to leave the state, first/last security again a maximum $4,000 can be used towards first/last security.
The other thing that we can do there’s all these resources. The other thing that we can do is we can the money that’s left over once we paid the moving expenses and all that can be used as a shallow monthly stipend. For example if we use $3,000 on some of these other things let’s say, they still have $5,000 left and it may help them to get stabilized and remain in the house if they get a shallow subsidy. So we might do $500 for 10 months, but you would understand that we would be working with you all the way along with that.
Rich: So what sort of programs or plans do you have in place to help people not need you after the 10th month?
Bill: We work with the tenants. We do a lot of budget counseling. The case management is really about the stability. The case managers meet with the families or at least talk to the families on the phone a minimum once monthly, oftentimes more and that’s really to give financial counseling, budget counseling because we really want them stable and to be able to go on their own. Usually in 6 to 12 months, we should have them pretty well stabilized, and for the most part we’re not seeing a lot of recidivism. The case management is pivotal because all the needs are getting addressed. If a family needs education pieces whatever it is that they need, we work with them to help them access that.
Rich: When you say stabilized, does that mean able to pay the rent on their own?
Rich: Okay, so you and I have the same definition of stabilized. That’s fantastic.
Bill: That’s the idea.
Rich: All right. You had mentioned a “how to be a good tenant” course. Is that optional? Is that a requirement? How regular does something like that take place in your program?
Bill: That’s part of the case management piece that we do in the HomeBASE, in particular. We have in the agency we serve through the programs about 3,000 to 4,000 clients. But beyond that, through the housing and some [unintelligible 0:10:27] center, we probably see it could be anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people a year that are coming in and need to read the information and referral and that kind of thing, so we would never be able to reach everybody with the tenant workshops. But I will say in the Section 8, in the briefing that’s part of what we do in the briefing and when we recertify them every 2 years, they come in to be debriefed, which includes a piece about how to be a good tenant and what your responsibilities are as a tenant, and that is really important to maintaining tenancy.
Rich: That’s fantastic. So HomeBASE is to help these folks who are in hotels or in shelters get into an apartment and not be homeless anymore?
Rich: Is that correct? Okay.
Bill: Absolutely correct. That’s the goal.
Rich: Okay, all right. Excellent. So in addition to that, we also have the RAFT Program, but a lot of the folks that are homeless for however that situation took place in their lives, a lot of these folks are already working. Isn’t that true?
Bill: That is correct.
Rich: Okay. A lot of folks already have a headstart. It’s not everybody is jobless, so they get some assistance, and they might already have a head start to being self-sufficient.
Bill: That is correct. A lot of them have been through some sort of a crisis. We see a lot of the families that come into HomeBASE have been through some sort of a financial crisis, a health crisis, or some sort of a crisis and that’s what caused homelessness to begin with.
Rich: Okay, so can you tell us about what the RAFT program is? What does that stand for and in what way is that similar or different from HomeBASE?
Bill: There are a few differences with the RAFT Program. First of all, just so you know what RAFT stands for. It’s the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition. The difference here is this is really a stabilization program. As I mentioned, in the HomeBASE they can receive up to $8,000 worth of assistance. In RAFT, it’s only $4,000 worth of assistance within a 12-month period. This is really to prevent – it’s more to prevent homelessness than – although some of the families that we serve are homeless, but mostly it’s about stabilizing a family and preventing them from becoming homeless. If they’ve already been homeless, then it’s to get them housed.
There are a lot of similarities between the programs, and I can talk a little bit about that. HomeBASE is really a shelter exit program, and I mentioned that RAFT is really about preventing homelessness. But the issue and this is so important because we’re getting so many referrals from so many agencies and organizations, this is pivotal, they have to be in a housing crisis to be eligible.
It’s very important to know that with the RAFT program, there’s no automatic eligibility. We do a screen. There is an intake process. There is a screen. If they’re not in a housing crisis, they’re not going to be eligible for the program. That’s essential to know. We’re getting hundreds and it really is literally hundreds of referrals that are not going to be eligible for the program. That’s important for you to know because just because somebody came in and went through the intake process does not mean they’re going to be eligible for the program. I know that the minute the tenant comes in, the first thing they do is call a landlord or a potential landlord and say, “I’m going to get RAFT and I’m going to get $4,000.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong! I can’t say that enough. There’s a whole process that goes through. The process can take 60 days. If they get through that initial intake and screening process, then they’ll be invited in to go through the full screen and determine their eligibility.
I would say probably maybe one in four or five that come through the door are eligible. That’s the key thing to know because I’m seeing a lot of people who are going to courts, going through mediation saying that they’re going to get RAFT. We’ve not been at the table. No one has talked to us, and I see agreements coming through that are saying that, “RAFT is going to pay X amount of dollars.” They’re not in that situation. If there is an eviction, it has to be a no-fault or it has to be tied to a housing crisis.
Another mistake, a lot of people think they come in, they owe a lot of rent, 10 months of rent whatever and thinking of subsidized housing but even 3 or 4 months, you guys have got to do your due diligence and start the eviction process because a lot of these folks are not going to be eligible.
Rich: How would you define a housing crisis if we have somebody who has fallen on hard times somehow and they’re having trouble paying us the rent, what are some common crises that you see that do qualify?
Bill: Job loss, health issues, family crisis, domestic violence. Those are among the more common ones. There are others that qualify as crises as well. Every case is individually reviewed and right now we don’t have a director, so I’m the one that’s actually reviewing them for the eligibility, so they really need to make this criteria. The other thing is that’s important and I get to get this point across, too, is documentation of everything. There are landlord packets that we have sent to Rich and Doug so that you would know what we have a requirement. I have left the checklist here of what’s required. Please take them. Also what the tenant is required to do because a lot of times tenants have difficulty getting this information. A lot of them are in crisis and when they’re in crisis, they have difficulty getting the information together. So like I said, information is valuable in your arms that’s why I want to make sure that you do have the information of what the tenants are required to bring in and what the landlords are required to bring in.
Rich: So you’re giving us an instruction manual for exactly how to navigate our way through this process?
Bill: You got it because we want everybody to be successful and we want to make the process as easy as possible.
Rich: Okay, so one of our residents had crisis paying the rent because she went on a trip to Canada for 3 weeks and she said that she spent $4,000 on toys for her new grandson. If I hear what you’re saying, Bill, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, that is not a crisis as far as this program is concerned. Is that correct?
Bill: That is correct, but we will be more than happy to budget counsel her [laughter].
Rich: Okay. That’s ‑
Bill: One of the services that we do offer.
Bill: And the people who do come through the RAFT Program and the HomeBASE that’s absolutely true, but if she came in and came in to our intake process and get denied eligibility because of those issues that Rich just mentioned, none of those qualify as a crisis.
Rich: I agree.
Bill: A lot of ways, a lot of ways you can figure it out always common sense.
Rich: The funny thing about common sense is it’s not as common as you might think.
Bill: That is true. You are absolutely right. I found that out. Every day, I’m reminded of that, Rich. But I do want to let you know that we do take the fiduciary responsibility of the taxpayer money seriously. This is not a big-funded program. One of the questions that Rich had sent me is when do you think that the money would run out or when would it typically run out? Last year, we got the largest increase of the reserve fund of any agency in the Commonwealth, which means we’re doing our job because the money is funneling out. That was in terms of percentage. At this rate, where we’re at right now with funding if we make it through March, it would be astounding, so that’s what I’m projecting out now if we don’t get any additional funds from the reserve.
Rich: When does that start? When do you start doling out the funds? Is that January?
Bill: No, no. We are already doing this. This is an interesting thing to know just for you because you guys, you men and ladies, are businesspeople so you will understand what I’m saying. The state, I’m working on a reimbursement, so that means that all of the funds that we send out are sent out of our funds, which puts us on the line of credit frequently, so we’re costing money. The program does cost us some money to operate because that is not reimbursable the interest that we pay on the line of credit. So we make that payments on the 1st and the 15th, and we process as much as we possibly can because we do [unintelligible 0:19:46]. We take the program seriously and we don’t want to get you folks pay as quickly as we can and we also want to get people through the process and house a quickly as we can. But now that we’re fronting the money. We’re basically providing free loans to the Commonwealth, but that’s the way the program operates. It takes us about 90 days to get reimbursed, so we’re actually fronting the money. A lot of people don't know that, but with all of that, we’re still processing as fast as we can in getting the money out to you as fast as we can.
Rich: So HomeBASE is going to be a source for us to take on new residents, right?
Bill: As well [unintelligible 0:20:26] yeah.
Rich: And RAFT could also be used if we already have existing residents who live with us who fall across a legitimate crisis.
Rich: I’ll give you another example because this is actually – that last example is 100 percent true by the way. She told me this on the phone three times. I thought after the second time her ears would have heard what her mouth was saying, that she’d start to catch on, but that didn’t take place, but I’ve got a lady who was laid off and she’s looking for a job. And now, she has to get a back surgery. That’s pretty serious and she’s not going to be able to get out of bed for 2 months, which is legitimately going to make – it’s going to make it very difficult for her to get a job. She physically cannot do it, so she has enough money coming in through other sources being unemployment and child support to pay the rent, but just barely. It doesn’t leave a lot of money left over for food and utilities and things. Does that sound – I won’t hold you to it – but does this sound like the type of scenario that RAFT might be designed for?
Bill: Typically the answer to your question would be yes. That could constitute and notice I said “could‑”
Rich: Of course.
Bill: That could constitute a housing crisis. That definitely could.
Bill: We see that kind of thing where people they have surgery, whatever, that causes a financial crisis. These are not – these are the lowest income people in the Commonwealth because we serve less than 30 percent of the AMI, so given that, the median income, so given that, that’s a low income, so these are people who do not have real resources available to them, so I think that’s important thing to know, and that’s true to both programs.
Rich: So you suspected the money, the funds might run out by March and when does it start back up again? When does it start back up again?
Rich: It starts back up in July, so there are a couple of months where they won’t be any funds coming out for these programs.
Bill: That is correct and let me just say this. Technically speaking it starts in July. We will continue doing intakes throughout the whole period. However, even though the program starts in July, we will not have a contract July 1st because typically we don’t get the contract until August, so while we’re doing these intakes, we really can’t pay out any money until we have a contract in place, so just understand. In the summer months depending on how quickly we get the contract in, we really can’t make any payments at all. Like I said, it will be effective July 1st, but we can’t do it until we have it signed and in place.
Rich: Just to clarify. When you say you can’t make any payments, you mean you can’t make any new payments but things you’ve already committed to are going to be – if we took somebody in HomeBASE 9 months before, you would still continue to pay as previously obligated, correct?
Bill: Yes, but we would not make a commitment because it’s beyond the end of the fiscal year.
Rich: Okay, fair enough. So any commitments that you make, you would ‑
Bill: Yeah, that is correct.
Rich: Stick to even if the rest of the funding runs out?
Bill: Any [crosstalk 0:23:45] right.
Bill: Any commitments we make, we make good on.
Rich: Fantastic. Did you have anything else that we should know if you have an opportunity to talk to a group of landlords?
Bill: I don’t want to miss this opportunity.
Rich: What should we know? Yeah.
Bill: You guys got to understand, these are complicated programs. Doing two of them at the same night is tough.
Rich: And you said the intake process takes about 60 days.
Bill: It takes about 60 days and I will tell you this, too. This is an important thing to know. RAFT is the one that you’ll be dealing with the most. You can navigate through what the case manager is on HomeBASE, which is real helpful. Unfortunately with RAFT, the volume is very heavy and we don’t have actual case managers. We have RAFT specialists, so they walk them through the process, but the volume is too heavy to the staff. So it's important for you to know that when they are eligible, they’re eligible for 12 months. They can come in. If they don’t use the full $4,000 up front, they can come back but it’s reapplication. They’re starting all over. That is an important thing to know, so if they used $1,000 and they technically have up to $4,000, which means there could be potentially $3,000 more available to them, they need to come in, reapply and go through the process all over again and renew the application. That's important because they may have been ineligible the first time out but not the second. Once they’ve been served, understand they have to come back and reapply.
The other thing that's really important is they have to complete the process in the timeframe that we give them. That has to happen and it has to be complete; otherwise, if they don’t do it, again they start over because the documentation is only good for 60 days ‑ important point to know.
The other thing is where can people use the program for? Rent arrearage, rent stipends, first/last security, utility arrearage, moving costs, furniture maximum of $1,000 like I mentioned before, moving expenses, and there are others that we take into consideration that handled individually, anything that could help to avoid homelessness and actually maintain their employment. For example, if they needed a car, that kind of thing. But those are the things that they can use it for.
One thing I want to tell you, too, on Section 8 in rent subsidy programs, we would not do more than security deposit in their portion of the first month’s rent. Again, for Section 8 and MRVP, whatever the rent subsidy is, again there has to be a housing crisis. Some of this is just in the typical Section 8 program that once they come in to get a security deposit. You cannot access it that way. That is not a housing crisis. They have to be in a crisis and they have to demonstrate and prove the crisis. Everything gets documented. We take the fiduciary responsibility of the taxpayer’s money very seriously.
Rich: All right, so as we’re bumping up to the end here, so the intake process takes 60 days so if somebody is going to have a crisis, they need to have it by January [laughter]. Right?
Bill: I think ‑
Rich: I’m sure [crosstalk 0:27:15] blast email about that.
Bill: Most likely.
Rich: And Doug, you had a question? I’ve already forgotten what it was. Okay, Doug doesn’t have it. I guess you’ve answered it. I guess that’s good. We have a lot of questions. Is it okay if we take one or two? Are you guys okay with that?
Rich: Okay, as I make my way over there, you had mentioned rent arrearage, which is something that we would probably if you could elaborate on that a little bit? Could you tell us how that works?
Bill: Yes. Must have a summary process in place in order to be eligible. They have to really be on the verge of being evicted and again it has to be a no-fault. If it’s just that they didn’t pay rent and they just didn’t pay it, that’s not going to make them eligible even with the summary process. But in order to be eligible for the program, you have to have a summary process for rent arrearage.
Laurie: I just want to bring up that if you do have a tenant that’s getting HomeBASE program and you’re getting a stipend $500 a month and they get a Section 8 voucher and you’re going to lease them up, you have to stop the HomeBASE payments. You can’t double up. You need to make sure you notify them. If we find out, you can get in trouble. You don’t want to do that.
Bill: Thanks, Laurie. I appreciate that.
Rich: All right.
Sandra: When you talked a little while ago about the stipend that they get, the question that I think a lot of us have is that how you actually verify how the money is spent. The reason I ask that is that oftentimes when I have to do an eviction and we have to get the moving company up there, we’re seeing 50-inch screen TVs in our units and I’m saying I don’t even have this 50-inch screen TV in my house.
Bill: Neither do I.
Sandra: How can somebody who is getting this $8,000 subsidy, how can they have this kind of equipment in this house? The question that I have is that when this money is being doled out, what are the things that are in place that say, “Okay, this money went for the first/last security. This money went for your utilities because we’re finding out also after the case that the utilities were not put into the tenants, so now we have a problem in terms of the utilities, and/or other things are being purchased that are not in anybody’s best interests. I want to know how you deal with that.
Bill: That’s a wonderful question and I’m very glad that you asked it because I’ve skipped three-quarters of my presentation, but I’m glad you asked the question. We do direct – and I think those of you that have dealt with this know – we do direct vendor payment. No money passes hands between the clients, so when we say we move money, we move it to you. None of the $8,000 or $4,000, depending on the program, none of that goes towards any of the luxury items that you mentioned. We don’t judge. We do budget counseling.
People make choices. This is a free country, even for poor people. People make choices. They may have had money or they could have been a gift. I don't know what the issue is but I can tell you this and guarantee you this: we don’t issue any funds that don’t go directly to a vendor, verified and documented. For every vendor, one of the requirements that you will see with the list that we require is a W-9.
Let me just say a quick thing about the W-9. Please fill it out properly. I just fill a list of 58 landlords that came from the IRS and they want us to hold payment on them because of the way they’re in our system, so just be aware of that. Make sure that you fill out your W-9s correctly. If the number matches whatever you report into the IRS because the IRS picks that up when we have to report and it’s on all about 1099s, so just please. A lot of times it’s probably just a mistake. You started doing a – I don't know. But there’s a lot of issues that come up from there, so just ‑
Rich: That was very gracious of you, Bill. We’re running over time. We have one more very quick question. If anybody else has questions, I’m sure Bill can answer them. Also ‑
Bill: I’ll stay.
Rich: Also ‑
Bill: It’s an opportunity.
Rich: Yes, post them to the message board so that everyone can find out the answer to your question. If folks post some questions to our message board, Bill, and we forwarded that to you, can I assume you would respond to them?
Bill: I respond to everything. I respond to email. My pad is over there. I respond to phone calls. I respond to everything.
Bill: Those of you that have dealt with me know that to be true.
Rich: Okay, good news. Okay, here’s our last quick question of the night.
Female Audience 1: Do people in need find [unintelligible 0:32:28] 211?
Rich: They can, yes.
Female Audience 1: Okay.
Rich: Okay, one more quick question. What the hell is that [laughter]? No, I’m serious. I don't know what you guys just talked about right there.
Male Audience 1: My question is when somebody, a tenant, uses the RAFT program and they’re eligible for it, the money goes to the landlord. Is the tenant required to do go through any type of counseling for how to manage money? Is that part of the RAFT program?
Bill: It’s one of the things that we offer. Not everyone who come through the RAFT program, because of the volume could do that in the timeframe. Not everyone that comes through the RAFT program can actually get through the budget counseling, but it is something that we offer and we encourage. So it’s not a requirement but we make it available. We do a little bit of it while we’re doing the orientation.
Male Audience 1: The reason I asked that is because a lot of my tenants are in the RAFT Program.
Male Audience 1: You know I get paid for everything.
Rich: Can you guys have this one-on-one specific case-based conversation afterward? I’m sure we’re really, really over. Bill, you really answer his question, right?
Bill: I will answer his questions‑
Bill: And anybody else’s.
Bill: Thank you so much, folks. I appreciate that.
Rich: Thank you very much [applause].