Mikael Damkier / Shutterstock.com

Homeless Shelters? HUD Is Working on Finding a Better Way

Housing vouchers aren't cheap, but they seem to be the best strategy for keeping a roof over everyone's head.

 America has the largest number of homeless women and children in the industrialized world. It's a depressing statistic exacerbated by a housing crisis that forced thousands of families out onto the street. The stories of the 1.6 million children who experience homelessness every year—like that of Dasani, an 11-year-old homeless child profiled by The New York Times last year—are reminiscent of tales from developing countries or disaster zones.

In 2010, the Obama administration announced a plan to end homelessness among children, youth, and families by 2020—but, predictably, there have been spats over funding and how to best use federal dollars.

Now a rigorous report, the first large-scale experiment ever conducted to test the effectiveness of homelessness interventions for families, might have some clues about how to create meaningful change. It suggests that providing vouchers to the homeless so they can afford permanent, stable housing may be the most effective means of keeping a roof over their heads.

The Family Options Study is a three-year-long evaluation of three types of ways to help homeless families, conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Abt Associates, and Vanderbilt University. It looks at 12 communities in a variety of U.S. cities—including Boston, Denver, Kansas City, Phoenix, and Honolulu—and involves 2,300 homeless families. The findings so far—the study is currently at its midway pointsuggest some solutions for reducing homelessness and improving the lives of low-income families, even those who are currently housed.

"This is an incredibly exciting study," said Kathy O'Regan, HUD's assistant secretary for policy development and research. "I think this is influencing the work we do immediately and in the future. You don't have that many studies where you say that early on."

The research is following families who were given different types of housing assistance. The first group received a Housing Choice Voucher (commonly known as Section 8), which provided participants with a subsidy for permanent housing. The second group was given temporary rental assistance for housing in the private market, an option known in the housing world as rapid rehousing. The third group received time-limited housing in a setting that included services like medical assistance and counseling. The fourth group received the usual type of interventions that a homeless family would be given, such as some time in emergency shelters and whatever housing assistance they can find on their own.

After 18 months, families using the Housing Choice Vouchers are doing much better than those who received traditional interventions. Children in the families that were given vouchers moved schools much less frequently than they otherwise would have. These families spent less time in shelters, the parents had fewer health problems and lower incidences of domestic violence, and they were more stable  mentally than those who received typical interventions.

About one-quarter of the homeless families surveyed had spent at least one night in a homeless shelter in the past month; only about 10 percent of families using vouchers had. About 65 percent of homeless families in the usual-care group worried about food; only about 10 percent of families receiving a voucher did. And 4.6 percent of usual care homeless families said they were in fair or poor health; less than 1 percent of subsidy families said the same.

There was one negative aspect to giving families vouchers—household members became less likely to have a job. That's because, with housing covered, there's less need to work; also, voucher programs require families to pay one-third of their income toward rent, which means the net wages they keep are relatively small.

Housing vouchers may sound like an expensive way to prevent homelessness, but so far, the costs aren't actually that different than those of other programs. The average monthly cost of serving a family in an emergency shelter is $4,819 a month. Transitional housing costs about $2,706, rapid rehousing costs $878, and a permanent subsidy, or voucher, costs about $1,162. Of course, the permanent subsidy is the only program where these costs recur for more than a year or two, so the costs add up. But a housing subsidy isn't necessarily forever. Being in permanent housing can allow families to get back on their feet, find work, and get off subsidies, says Michelle Wood, who leads the study. Families often use subsidies for three or four years and then move on.

Housing Choice Vouchers are in high demand for many families across the country—not just those experiencing homelessness. The "sequestration" cuts in the federal budget eliminated 100,000 vouchers. And though the president's 2016 budget would reverse those cuts and add an additional 67,000 vouchers, still only about 5 million people in 2.1 million families receive the vouchers, and there's little political pressure to expand the program further.

But this study, which will release follow-up results after 18 more months, shows how important vouchers are for improving the well-being and outcomes of low-income families, said Jill Khadduri, a former HUD researcher who now works for Abt Associates, a research firm. This is the first hard evidence to show that housing stability can help kids stay in school and can also help families stay together.

"I certainly wish that political will existed to expand the program," she said. "Vouchers are an important part of the social safety net, and they really help people at the bottom of the income distribution, including people who are working."

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.