Katherine Harasz on partnerships to prevent homelessness

Santa Clara County Housing Authority Executive Director Katherine Harasz speaking at the 2017 Strive Scholarship award ceremony

Santa Clara County Housing Authority Executive Director and Destination: Home Board Member Katherine Harasz talks about how partnerships are essential to prevent and end homelessness in Santa Clara County. The Housing Authority works with low-income families, administers federal rental assistance programs, and develops affordable housing throughout our community.

What were your initial goals as executive director of Santa Clara County Housing Authority?

In 2012, when I joined the Housing Authority, they already had some homeless programs in place. At that time, however, the Housing Authority was fairly isolated from the rest of the community. One of the things I did was to begin joining community conversations on addressing homelessness and our community’s safety net in general. It really inspires you to ask: “How can we leverage our resources and what things can we do together to be most effective and help the greatest number of people in a meaningful way?”

Katherine Harasz of the Santa Clara County Housing Authority on the potential of partnerships

I believe that somebody who needs, for example, help paying their rent, probably needs assistance in other areas. They may also need childcare. They may also need healthy food, help with education, or help with an elderly parent. I generally think of this as the safety net and the things that people might need to help them have stable, self-sufficient lives. Where all these systems come together is where I was inspired to help, because I believe that government can do a good and efficient job. I continue to be inspired to help government do its best and be its best.

What is most promising about how our community is working to address homelessness?

Harasz at the opening ceremony of Bendorf Apartments an affordable housing development

The most promising aspect is that we have demonstrated to the entire country how to make it happen. We are unique. Here in Santa Clara County, we’re blessed because we have a lot of talent. The City of San Jose has built up a considerable affordable housing portfolio as a result of an early commitment from City Council to dedicate not just the minimum 20 percent, but 30 percent of their redevelopment agency tax increment financing to affordable housing. This policy encouraged affordable housing developers and helped instigate development of the talent we need.

2018 has been a year of great change for Destination: Home. What growth opportunities do you see for us?

In the last six years, Destination: Home has proven to be a righteous fundraiser. Another strength that Destination: Home has is its Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Loving, who is an effective promoter. Not all of us have that natural skill set, which is very important because you need to get your message out there.

The opportunity for Destination: Home and the work that is already ongoing is to spread our message to other communities around the country so that they can replicate our model, and also replicate the very simple message that the Housing First approach works.

I love that Destination: Home has the data to back up their approach. Regardless of whether your angle is as an environmentalist wanting to see your parks and rivers clean and not full of debris, or if you want to make a moral case that we need to take care of each other and that housing and health should be a human right, or if you want to make most effective use of your tax dollars, we have the data to show that Housing First is the best approach. Continuing to promote these great policies and best practices is a really important role for Destination: Home.

Harasz speaking at a 2018 landlord appreciation reception

What does the future hold for the Housing Authority?

Families are paying 40 to 50 percent of their income on rent. It is untenable, not sustainable and means they are going without something. They are going without health care. They are going without education, they are going without good shoes on their feet. Whatever it is, they are going without something.

What I’ve tried to do internally is have a more unified housing policy. This work extends into the broader community and is something that we would like to see extended throughout the country. My focus has been to look beyond the Section 8 housing voucher program and out to the community as well as across our programs and to unify them. Before, you had the development team doing what they are doing and the Section 8 people doing their work. They didn’t really think they were connected, but they are.

Paying too much rent means going without something else

Our role is to keep the affordable housing pipeline going and to find the most efficient and effective way to use our federal funds so that we can serve as many people as possible. Overall, we would like everybody to be able to live in a home where they are not paying any more than 30 or 35 percent of their income on rent.

How can people get involved and support the work of the Housing Authority?

There are two ways Housing Authority activities can be supported. On one hand (and this is part of a community-wide campaign that is not unique to the Housing Authority), when we develop new housing, it is great to have community support for any zoning or planing department approvals that are required. The second way to help is to keep federal funding coming and ensure we are tracking folks dependent on our programming.

We work hard every day to run programs responsibly and maintain program integrity. There are no Section 8 voucher holders who make $200,000 per year. This is a myth. I always invite the public to become more familiar with our programming, and to think about it when voting at the federal level. When working to maintain the important community benefits managed by the Housing Authority and others, it is important to recognize the importance of our votes and our civic engagement.

This video highlights one of many Housing Authority-Destination: Home partnerships. For more information, you can follow the Santa Clara County Housing Authority on Twitter @SCC_HousingAuth 

This blog post is part of a new Destination: Home Guest Blog Series. The purpose of the series is to raise up the voices of our partners and highlight our collective work to end homelessness in Santa Clara County

The Guest Blog Series was led by Destination: Home summer volunteers Robyn Breynaert and Francesca Chicoine with guidance from Cisco Digital Content Lead Kirsten Chiala

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