Helping people exit homelessness through rapid housing placements and supportive services
Having experienced housing insecurity while growing up in Los Angeles, Chris Contreras knows firsthand how housing impacts one’s health and ability to advance economically. He has seen homelessness become one of California’s most visible, intractable, and political problems — with Los Angeles County at the center of the crisis. At last count, more than 160,000 Californians are unhoused, with at least 60,000 living in Los Angeles County. Inspired to address this complex challenge, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) contracted Brilliant Corners — a nonprofit that provides housing and supportive services to people transitioning from or at risk of homelessness — to serve as the operator of its newest initiative, the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool. In his role as Chief Program Officer, Chris Contreras oversees this first–of–its kind public–private partnership, which pairs rental subsidies with tenancy supports and case management services to help Los Angeles County’s most vulnerable populations secure and maintain housing in a more coordinated and streamlined way. Since 2014, Contreras and Brilliant Corners have facilitated permanent supportive housing placements for roughly 10,500 formerly unhoused Angelenos through the Flex Pool.
Helping someone move into home and ensuring they have the support they need to thrive— that makes the difference in ending someone’s homelessness.
– Chris Contreras
- In Los Angeles County, median rent has increased 54 percent since 2000, while renter income has only grown 16 percent. This disparity has left hundreds of thousands of Angelenos homeless or at risk of losing housing.
- Meanwhile, Los Angeles returned nearly $150 million of unspent federal grants for housing subsidies between 2015 and 2020. Local housing authorities attribute the underspending to a range of issues, including a lack of suitable housing units, poor credit and rental histories among the homeless population, landlords’ unwillingness to rent to homeless people, and high unit turnover rates.
- In many models addressing homelessness, overworked case managers are charged with managing the many complex challenges that an individual or family may experience while also building landlord relationships from scratch to secure housing for their clients.
- Under Contreras’ leadership, Brilliant Corners leverages housing subsidies, a team dedicated solely to finding suitable housing units, and ongoing housing services to ensure the long-term stability of individuals transitioning out of homelessness.
- Brilliant Corners partners with landlords and developers to create a “pool” of housing units that can be quickly matched to any client experiencing homelessness. Brilliant Corners can mitigate a landlord’s vacancy loss by paying them up to two months of rental payments to add units exclusively to the Flex Pool.
- Clients are referred to the Flex Pool by DHS as well as other participating County departments. The Flex Pool approach reduces the time it takes to get people housed and ensures clients retain their housing.
- In 2015, Brilliant Corners and Contreras leveraged the Flex Pool structure to serve justice-impacted adults in Los Angeles County. Brilliant Corners launched the unique program, “Breaking Barriers,” in partnership with the Los Angeles County Probation Department, DHS, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Chrysalis, and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
- Under Contreras’ stewardship, the Flex Pool program has fostered relationships with more than 1,100 scattered site landlords; roughly 5,400 units are currently leased.
- Flex Pool clients have a one-year housing retention rate of 92 percent, which exceeds the national average of 85 percent.
- Brilliant Corners has leveraged more than $800 million from local government agencies, philanthropic partners, and private entities to facilitate housing and supportive services. Based on the success of the LA Flex Pool, Brilliant Corners has replicated the model in San Francisco, San Diego, and the Inland Empire.
- Contreras is leading efforts in Los Angeles County to increase the use of federal emergency housing vouchers to help more people exit homelessness.
- In the near future, Brilliant Corners endeavors to replicate the Flex Pool in other California communities and statewide.
The written profile and video reflect the work of the leader(s) the year they received a Leadership Award. Please contact the leader(s) for current information.