A conversation on Beacon’s CBRA housing program

In recent years there has been a greater focus on addressing housing as a social determinant of health, and Beacon Health Options last year started a new program to provide housing assistance. 

The program, called the Community Behavioral Health Rental Assistance Program (CBRA), is funded by the Washington State Department of Commerce, which is the state’s housing finance agency. During the last session, legislators expanded funding statewide, which allowed Beacon to offer rental assistance in three regions: in Pierce County, southwest Washington and North Central Washington. 

 

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Beacon is receiving roughly $2 million to be used for security and utility deposits, application fees, and monthly rent for up to 120% of fair market rent for people experiencing behavioral health conditions and are also able to receive supportive service through other means. It is also flexible enough to cover motel room rentals for those experiencing homelessness. That flexibility is key to the program.

Jon Brumbach, housing program manager for Beacon Health Options, said stabilizing housing helps improve health outcomes. 

“If folks are in behavioral health crisis, or a health crisis of any kind, they’re still not going to focus on maintaining their health if their first priority is where they’re going to sleep at night,” Brumbach said. 

Brumbach said there has been a push to break down silos between health care and housing support systems as health systems begin to see the financial impacts of trying to serve people without stable housing. 

“By incorporating these types of housing supports into the continuum of services offered by the BH-ASO’s we’re able to really speak to whole person care,” he said. 

There have been challenges with setting up housing assistance though. Brumbach said there is a cultural shift, as well as operational ones. There are different payment models and contractual obligations between housing and health care services. The CBRA program is unique because while it is a housing resource, the eligibility criteria and the target population incorporates a more clinical mindset when looking at diagnoses and services. 

“It’s really where the rubber hits the road in this integration of housing,” he said. 

Housing agencies may not be used to engaging in clinical services, and behavioral health organizations may struggle to distribute housing dollars. But Brumbach said he has been pleased with the response the CBRA program has had. 

“I think we’re well positioned as we move forward to really have this be a reliable resource,” he said. 

Still, there are challenges beyond the scope of the program. Washington State has a chronic shortage of housing units — a shortage that incorporates market rate, affordable, and supportive units. Even when Beacon and other providers are able to offer subsidies, if there’s no housing stock available, the rental assistance can’t be utilized. 

“The actual capital development of housing, I know there’s a lot of money going towards that, but that takes time,” he said. “… It’s an issue, but CBRA really is meant for those who have the housing need right now.” 

For Brumbach, the most exciting thing when looking to the future is being able to integrate CBRA into its integrated resources within the crisis spectrum of care. 

From the state legislature, he would like to see the funding structure made more permanent. Currently, if organizations don’t use all the money allocated to them from the state general fund, they are required to return it. However, programs take time to set up and may not be fully operational within one year.