An award to Vermont of almost $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will allow Vermont to assist more families in reuniting and staying together.

In a statement, Ben Carson, secretary of the agency, said HUD is “committed to helping parents and caregivers obtain safe and affordable housing for their families.”

“This investment will allow thousands of children to leave the foster-care system and live with their families so they have the opportunity to thrive together,” Carson said.

The $598,047 awarded to the Vermont State Housing Authority will make almost 60 vouchers available for families separated because of inadequate housing.

Kathleen Berk, director of the housing program for the VSHA, said the money would be added to a program that’s already been in place for many years.

“Currently, we’re serving 300 families … that receive rental assistance and benefits from this particular program,” she said.

The program is available statewide from VSHA, a nonprofit that’s considered “semi-government” because it was created by the Vermont Legislature. The VSHA is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

Berk said the program is entirely funded by HUD, but said the $598,000 announced last week “simply grows our existing funding and allows us to serve more families.”

Berk said funding is competitive. The additional vouchers are the result of an application she wrote in collaboration with staff members from the Vermont Agency of Human Services earlier this year.

Berk said she had requested 100 new vouchers, but HUD agreed to give Vermont 59 instead.

“My guess is that just speaks to the competitive nature of the process,” she said.

According to Berk, VSHA had about 100 families on a waiting list at the time she wrote the application.

“There clearly continues to be an unmet need,” she said.

David Tille, HUD’s New England regional administrator, said in a statement the funding plays a “critical role in providing Vermont families with the housing and supportive services they need to be successfully reunited.”

HUD’s Family Unification Program, the source of the funding, provides rental assistance to parents being separated or near-separated from their children, or funding to help provide stable housing for young people from 18 to 24 who have aged out of the foster-care system.

The vouchers allow families to rent from private landlords. The family or young people awarded the voucher generally pay 30 percent of their monthly income towards rent and utilities.

In Vermont, VSHA staff work with staff from the AHS and the Vermont Department for Children and Families to identify potential participants, Berk said. Those state agencies also provide services to the voucher recipients.

A press release from HUD cited the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, which said the costs accrued by placing children in foster care can be more than $48,000 annually, while the services that keep a family together cost about $15,000 annually.

A $20 million investment in the vouchers saves more than $134 million in foster-care costs, the release concluded.

The new vouchers will be available on Jan. 1.

Berk said families and young people who believe they would qualify for the vouchers should apply, despite the fact a waiting list exists. She said the waiting list was “fluid” because of the criteria required, like a need for housing. The applicants must also be at risk of losing their children or have already lost their children to DCF custody to be considered, Berk added.

“I would encourage folks to apply. They should apply through their local Reach Up (a DCF program) office or social welfare offices. The way the referral process works, those referrals are made to the (AHS) which then prioritizes the applications within the system and sends those applications to us,” Berk said.

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