Surplus Government Property: Homeless Help vs. Revenue - Miller-McCune
Turning unloved federal property into homeless services centers has been federal law for a quarter century, but tough times have bureaucrats hoping to shove that tradition into the cold.
For the past 25 years, many organizations that serve the homeless in America have been able to do so with a free supply of real estate: surplus federal property that the government no longer wants. Old warehouses have been turned into food banks. Small agency office buildings have been converted to counseling centers. Decommissioned military housing now sometimes shelters the homeless.
But in a reality of the recession, as America’s homeless ranks have risen, so too has the pressure in Washington to make a buck by selling these properties.
“The issue has kind of devolved into a complex one, and at its heart, it’s actually not a complicated issue,” said Jeremy Rosen, policy director for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “It was thought, quite correctly at the time — and I believe it’s still quite correct today — that if the federal government has property that homeless providers could use, and homeless providers need property, why don’t we match that up?”
THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune’s Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.
This idea dates to the 1987 McKinney-Vento Act, the first comprehensive federal law dealing with homelessness. The law governs the homeless assistance program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development; it also protects the rights of homeless children to enroll in school. One piece of the bill — called Title V — requires that the federal government must first offer surplus properties to homeless service providers at no cost before giving them away for other public uses or selling them to private buyers.
The offer is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. Last week HUD published the latest list of hundreds of excess properties for the taking, from a 900-square-foot vehicle maintenance shop in Tulelake, California, to an 18,000-square-foot storage facility in Harford, Maryland. As always, homeless services have 60 days to apply for property from the latest list and must show they’ll make efficient use of what they take.