The Value of Interagency Collaboration

By Devon Mayer

In June, New Editions facilitated the seventh annual meeting between the US Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Agriculture (USDA) at HUD headquarters. The theme of this year’s meeting was Housing as a Platform for Health.

HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson started off the event by greeting the attendees and reflecting on how important it is to view individuals in a holistic manner. The Secretary was followed by three panels of key staff from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), HUD, USDA, and other HHS divisions who shared how their respective agencies are collaborating on providing preventive and supportive services for individuals in need of long-term services and supports.

There were more than 80 federal employee attendees at the event. I served as one of New Editions’ staff facilitators for the small group discussions. As people spoke about the programs they represented, there was a real excitement about the potential for partnerships and leveraging of resources. They talked about how the earlier they know about a problem, the earlier they can step in and provide education or technical assistance options. One of the key takeaways from the day was a request for some sort of formalized information sharing across agencies throughout the year.

Many times agencies collaborate in order to maximize resources and support individuals more effectively. In my prior job as a senior state program manager in Maryland, I found that there must be champions who dedicate the staff time and resources to collaboration to have success. I helped to support Maryland’s partnership between state services and housing agencies that provides more housing resources for people with disabilities.

Three state agencies make up the leadership of the Maryland Partnership for Affordable Housing (MPAH): the Department of Health, Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Department of Disabilities. The partnership is formalized in a memorandum of understanding that outlines the goals of the partnership and the roles and responsibilities of each agency. Key staff, with decision-making authority, from each of the agencies meet in person on a monthly basis and hold bi-weekly phone calls to touch base on time sensitive work. They rotate the location of the meeting each month so that no one agency is always burdened by travel. The staff have developed strong working relationships and they can debate sensitive policy decisions from a place of mutual respect and trust.

As a result of this partnership, Maryland was successful in receiving two rounds of HUD funding for 300 subsidized housing units, specifically set aside for individuals with disabilities under the age of 62. MPAH also piloted a public-private partnership with the Weinberg Foundation. The Weinberg Foundation donated money to be used as capital funding to entice property owners to offer low income rental units within their properties. The first round of funding was a success and the Foundation gave a second round to create more affordable housing. MPAH also created a consolidated housing waitlist so that individuals who are looking for housing can put their names on wait lists for all the programs for which they may qualify.

There are numerous resources out there for states that need help starting up partnerships, particularly between housing and health agencies. The Urban Institute (funded by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation) developed several Housing and Health Collaboration briefs which were referenced at the meeting:

These briefs give concrete examples of the types of agencies to involve and how their interests may align. Housing and Medicaid are natural partners because they serve many of the same people. I have seen that by identifying areas of mutual interest and then collaborating, the various systems can coordinate efforts for maximum effect, rather than duplicating services or leaving gaps.