Bright Spot: Lancaster, PA | Partnering with Public Housing Authorities (PHAs)

September 19, 2019

For individuals at risk of experiencing chronic homelessness, partner with the PHA to create a homeless preference in which the PHA takes prioritized referrals from the CoC for Section 8 vouchers

Check out this bright spot if…

  • You want to provide more substantial and comprehensive support of individuals at-risk of becoming chronically homeless.
  • You want to prevent households from aging in to chronic homelessness.
  • You want to try it!


Lancaster, PA utilized and strengthened their relationship with their two PHAs to get them to agree to a 20% homeless preference for Section 8 vouchers, sourced by direct referrals from the CoC. The Section 8 vouchers provided through this partnership are the primary resource for housing individuals on the chronic at-risk list (or on the chronic list when there are significant barriers to chronic verification.) These vouchers are used in combination with mobile support services to ensure that individuals on the At-Risk list have access to the support they need to stay in housing over the
long term

Key Action: Strengthen the Relationship between the Coc and the PHA

The Lancaster CoC worked over the past several years to develop and strengthen the relationship with the City and County Housing Authorities to ensure vouchers aligned with the efforts to end veteran and chronic homelessness. The relationships took time to build – Mike Foley, the CoC leader, described some of the early efforts as being like “pulling teeth” — but the CoC was persistent.

Efforts began with a request by the CoC for the heads of the PHAs to simply come to talk and explore where CoC and PHA interests might align. The relationship with the County Housing Authority was quicker to solidify, as the leadership had a stronger grasp on and commitment to the Housing First model. The decision was made to have a representative from the County Housing Authority on the CoC board, which facilitated better communication, quicker problem solving and a team approach to ending homelessness, which included the openness to take referrals directly from
the CoC’s By-Name List.

The community has been using Section 8 vouchers provided by the partnership in combination with mobile case management services to house persons on the at-risk list for about 2 years, although the composition of the At-Risk list itself has changed over the past two years, as has the balance for prioritizing at-risk and chronic individuals. Mike estimates that they have housed at least 30 individuals this way. So far, they have all stayed housed. Mike noted that his estimate even includes one of the clients they had the most difficulty housing because she would repeatedly threaten landlords with arson. With a portable Section 8 voucher and case managers who are able to mediate with the landlord, she has been housed for 8 months.
Currently, the CoC views both Housing Authorities as full collaborators in their effort to end chronic homelessness. The CoC notes that long-term subsidies such as Section 8 are the key to keeping people housed, particularly those whose long-term homelessness and/or disabilities impact their ability to generate sufficient earned income on a regular basis. In addition, because of the relationship with the CoC, the County Housing Authority has been willing to take a chance and house individuals who have drug and/or alcohol related convictions who would normally not be eligible for Section 8 Housing.

Key Action: Bring the Leadership along

The Lancaster CoC has strong relationships with City and County Housing Authorities, the health care system and the faith community to coordinate efforts to end chronic homelessness. Mike cites continued education and discussion, as well as connecting leaders with each other, to bring leaders along in better buying into and implementing a Housing First approach and prioritizing those most in need.

Fail forward moments

Initially, the City Housing Authority was more difficult to partner with than the County Housing Authority and were more wary about taking referrals from the CoC. In general, the City Housing Authority had significantly less of a Housing First orientation than the County Housing Authority.

The CoC addressed this challenge by asking the County Housing Authority leadership to reach out and provide education and support from a peer perspective on using a Housing First lens to implement their mission. Mike reports that as a result, the County Housing Authority has made tremendous progress and is willing to take perceived “risks” housing individuals that they never would have earlier on.

Want more information?

Contact Mike Foley (, COO of the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness.