Say hello to Title V, a shockingly sensible way to tap into a vast amount of property sitting unused in American cities.

For years, residents and officials in Washington, D.C., have debated what to do with an abandoned federal warehouse at 49 L Street SE. Parked a block from both the Nationals Ballpark and the Navy Yard Metro Station, the warehouse couldn’t hope to occupy a better location. A formerly forlorn pocket of the city marked by gay clubs and empty federal warehouses, Navy Yard is now known as Capitol Riverfront—to developers, anyway—and features two of the city’s flashier urban parks, Yards Parkand Canal Park.

While neighbors dreamed up plans for a Half Street Market, and members of Congress even convened a hearing (inside the warehouse!) to discuss why the General Services Administration moved so slowly in selling off its disused property, the fate of 49 L Street SE was set decades ago. It will be used as a homeless shelter, or more specifically, a transitional services facility with permanent supportive housing for seniors.


Then HUD puts these federal properties up for grabs. That’s how Title V works: If the Salvation Army can come up with a way to turn an old U.S. Army Air Base hangar into an emergency homeless shelter, the Salvation Army gets the hangar—which is how the Salvation Army built Los Angeles’s Bell Shelter, the largest homeless shelter west of the Mississippi River. (Although not without a fight.)

To make that happen, an organization like the Salvation Army would need to submit an application, which gets routed through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Such an organization would need to know about the property in the first place, of course, to apply for it. Until March of this year, HUD published Title V opportunities weekly in the Federal Register. “Some weeks, there are literally none,” Bauman says. “Other weeks, there could be hundreds.”

Until recently, organizations faced a couple of hurdles in turning old federal buildings into shelters. To receive final approval from HHS, an applicant would need to demonstrate not just expertise but also a financing plan to convert the building or property. (Title V commits no funds to homeless services.) That could be difficult for an applicant to demonstrate on a tight turn-around of just 90 days.

After receiving federal approval, any potential Title V shelter still faced the prospect of opposition from not-in-my-back-yard types. In a 2004 review of 64 successful transfers, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty concluded that 11 providers reported significant NIMBY opposition to proposed Title V initiatives—several of which were scotched as a result.

Lining up so many ducks in a row proved difficult for service providers. In 2003, for example, HUD listed 945 properties as suitable and available for use as homeless shelters. Only 17 applications were tendered to HHS.

Late last year, Congress passed a bill to slim down the federal government’s physical footprint and speed up its “disposal” of property. With the bipartisan Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act of 2016, the legislature tackled a problem identified by members in hearing after hearing—one of which took place inside 49 L Street SE. (“They called it literally sitting on our assets,” Bauman says.)

The FAST Act included big changes for Title V. It enabled HUD to list properties online, through the HUD Exchange. (According to Juanita Perry, HUD’s Title V lead, the department is currently working on a mapping tool to make these opportunities even more visible.)