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Ending family homelessness is ending child homelessness; and that is good for a lot of reasons.

Message From PD&R Senior Leadership
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Ending family homelessness is ending child homelessness; and that is good for a lot of reasons.

Image of Todd M. Richardson, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development.Todd M. Richardson, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development.

In the last budget of President Obama’s term, the Administration made a bold proposal to end family homelessness. While Congress may not take action on this for the FY 17 budget, I wanted to take a moment to highlight some new evidence that reminds us why this is important. And at the heart of this is that ending family homelessness is ending child homelessness.

The Administration’s FY 2017 proposal has a 10-year, $11 billion proposal to fund additional housing vouchers and rapid re-housing assistance. HUD projects that by targeting new voucher assistance in combination with normal voucher turnover, as well as increasing the availability of rapid re-housing within communities, that we can serve 40,000 new homeless families each year, and this may be enough to end family homelessness over 10-years.

The research that prompted this proposal was the 20-month follow-up results from the Family Options study – a study that compares the benefits of providing long-term housing assistance versus short-term housing assistance to homeless families.

Since the FY 17 budget proposal was made, several new studies, including the 37-month follow-up results from the Family Options study (released last week), reinforce the importance of ending family homelessness. The 20-month and 37-month follow-up surveys for the Family Options study show that receiving a housing voucher versus “usual care” – primarily a mixture of emergency shelter, transitional shelter, and short-term rental solutions results in:

  • Huge reduction in returns to homelessness. At both 20- and 37-month follow-up points, returns to homelessness or doubled up experiences in the past 6 months were cut by more than half. Among families in the usual care group, 35 percent had been homeless or doubled up in the 6 months prior to our 3-year follow-up survey; for the group offered the housing voucher, the rate was 17 percent. More striking is that during months 21 to 32 after random assignment, 19 percent of the usual care families had a return to emergency shelter, whereas just 5 percent of the families offered a voucher had a return to emergency shelter – this is a 74 percent reduction.
  • Large benefits for things that matter in child development. This study reminds us that one of the most compelling reasons we want to end family homelessness is because of the harm homelessness will have on the lives of the children in these families. To name just a few of the impacts, these problems occurred 15 to 50 percent less frequently for the families offered the vouchers relative to usual care:
    • Child separations (at 20 months);
    • Psychological distress of the family head, usually mom (at both time points);
    • Economic stress (at both time points);
    • Intimate partner violence (at both time points);
    • School mobility (at both time points);
    • Behavior problems and sleep problems of children (at 37 months); and
    • Food insecurity (at both time points).
  • These benefits are achieved for very little net additional cost – under $4,000 over three years. Specifically, the very large benefits over 37 months are achieved for a net cost of just $3,800! Usual care costs an average of $42,000 over 37 months; being offered the housing voucher cost $46,000. The high cost of usual care is because emergency shelter is expensive – approximately $4,800 per month compared to a voucher average monthly cost $1,200. Families cycling in and out of emergency shelter is both financially expensive and has a high human cost.

Less employment for mom. For families experiencing homelessness – mostly led by single mothers - there is considerable cycling in and out of the labor market in poor paying jobs. As a point in time measure 3-years after entering the homeless shelter, just 36 percent of heads reported having a job in the week before the survey, and there was no difference by group. However, over a 20-month time period, the adults with long-term housing benefits were less likely to report any work. At 37 months, 64 percent of the usual care household heads had worked; whereas this rate was 58 percent for the heads of households who had been offered a housing voucher.

But more employment for their children when they grow up. The reverse holds true, however, for their children. Another study supported by PD&Rs Research Partnership program took advantage of matching HUD records on receipt of housing assistance with Census 2000, Census 2010, and Unemployment Insurance records to answer this question: how does an additional year of housing assistance as a teenager impact your employment as an adult? This research takes advantage of the fact that siblings within a household are likely to have different number of years they receive housing assistance because of how long families wait for housing on waitlists.

This study found that, for the teenage girls studied, each additional year with a voucher increased their annual earnings at age 26 by $468. And they had a 9 percent lower chance of incarceration as an adult in 2010. These results are very similar for girls in public housing. Impacts for boys were also positive, and of similar size for public housing but smaller for vouchers.

Neighborhood is important as well. The benefits for boys were not present if they lived in the poorest housing developments. Which reminds us that if you have housing assistance, the more that the neighborhood is safe and has positive resources such as good schools, the greater the benefits for the children and their parents, something we’ve learned from Moving To Opportunity and something we have discussed earlier.

In sum – these two research studies suggest that, for an investment of less than $4,000 more per family over a 3-year period of time, the provision of housing assistance could cut returns to homelessness by children by more than half, cut domestic violence for their families by 40 percent, and cut food insecurity by 20 percent, while simultaneously setting the stage for the children to have a better economic future.

Published Date: 7 November 2016