Best Way to Fight Homelessness – Housing Vouchers

To determine the most effective method, HUD conducted a large, three-year study of the results when one of the four types of intervention was used.

WASHINGTON – October 27, 2016 – There are a number of ways to address homelessness if a family with children seeks emergency shelter. To determine the most effective method, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducted a large, three-year study of the results when one of the four types of intervention was used.

HUD says it found that a long-term subsidy, typically a Housing Choice Voucher, led to better outcomes for reducing family homelessness and improving family well-being.

In HUD's Family Options Study: Three-year Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families, 2,200 families were tracked over three years and randomly assigned to one of four interventions. HUD says the families offered a long-term subsidy had significant reductions in subsequent homelessness, adult psychological distress, intimate partner violence and food insecurity.

"The evidence from this study indicates that having access to deep long-term housing subsidies produces substantial benefits for families," says Kathy O'Regan, HUD's assistant secretary of policy development and research. "While we continue to seek more housing subsidies to help families experiencing homelessness, we must also recognize that rapid rehousing is proving to be the most cost-effective tool that we have available within the crisis response system."

After spending at least seven days in an emergency shelter, families participating in the study were randomly assigned one of four interventions:

  • Long-term housing subsidy, usually a Housing Choice Voucher, that often included help finding a place to live but no other support services.
  • Community-based rapid re-housing provided temporary rental assistance, potentially renewable for up to 18 months, paired with limited, housing-focused services to help families find and rent conventional, private-market housing.
  • Project-based transitional housing provided temporary housing for up to 24 months in agency-controlled buildings or apartments, along with "intensive" support services.
  • Usual care was defined as any housing or services that a family accesses in the absence of immediate referral to the other interventions. Typically, it includes at least some additional stay in the emergency shelter.

HUD measured outcomes for families in five key areas: housing stability, family preservation, adult well-being, child well-being and self-sufficiency; and then compared the outcomes of families assigned to each of the four interventions.

Major findings: 37 months later

  • Families offered a long-term subsidy had significantly less homelessness and housing instability than families offered any of the other interventions.
  • Families offered a long-term subsidy continued to demonstrate significantly improved non-housing outcomes compared to families offered usual care, including adult well-being (reductions in psychological distress, intimate partner violence), child well-being (reductions in school mobility, behavior problems and sleep problems, and more pro-social behavior), increased food security and decreased economic stress.
  • Families randomly assigned to community-based rapid re-housing experienced similar outcomes to those families who were assigned to usual care, achieving no statistically significant reductions in subsequent emergency shelter use or housing mobility, but at significantly less cost than usual care.
  • Families randomly assigned to project-based transitional housing with intensive support services had reductions in emergency shelter use relative to families assigned to usual care but achieved no better non-housing outcomes.
  • Families offered a subsidy or community-based rapid re-housing spent significantly less time in transitional housing than families assigned to usual care.

 Costs of each program

  • Families assigned to usual care used roughly $41,000 in housing and services over the full 37-month period of study.
  • Families assigned to the community-based rapid re-housing intervention incurred the lowest costs, using $4,000 less in housing and services than families assigned to usual care.
  • Providing priorit·y access to housing subsidies cost nearly $4,000 more over the three-year study period than families assigned to usual care.
  • Costs of the housing and services provided to families assigned to project-based transitional housing exceeded the costs for families assigned to community-based rapid re-housing or usual care, but they were slightly cheaper than the costs incurred by families offered a subsidy.
  • Emergency shelter programs had the highest average per-family monthly costs of approximately $4,800, compared to transitional housing at $2,700/month, a voucher at $1,172/month, and rapid re-housing at $880/month.
  • The study has led HUD to encourage local communities to review, and likely reduce, the number of transitional housing beds they support. HUD says the findings will continue to guide the Department's effort to press state and local planners to target their limited resources to those strategies that demonstrate the best outcomes for families and their children.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission

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