Two years after the DHAP-Katrina program ended, and seven years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many are still at risk of housing instability, according to a recent report. The Study of Household Transition from the Disaster Housing Assistance Program Final Report was prepared by Abt Associates for HUD and presents post-program results from DHAP-Katrina, a new approach to post-disaster housing assistance. The study’s authors looked at how the type and duration of assistance, participant characteristics, and case management services contributed to housing outcomes. They also provide guidance about how to shape rental assistance and case management in future disaster housing assistance programs.
Thirty-six thousand households participated in DHAP-Katrina, joining the program in three phases starting in August 2007. The program was limited to households that had not previously been assisted by HUD programs and offered time-limited, declining rental subsidies and case management services. While households without permanent housing two years after the hurricanes were likely to be low income, DHAP-Katrina had no income limit. Phase 1 participants had declining rental subsidies per the program design, but Phase 2 and 3 participants received full subsidies throughout their enrollment, a decision, according to the authors, to “reduce any disincentive families may have had to leave their [temporary housing units], for which they had not been paying rent.” In late February 2009, HUD announced that participants were eligible for the Disaster Housing Assistance Transitional Closeout Program (TCP) that would extend rental contributions through August 2009. At the end of DHAP-Katrina and TCP, staff helped potentially eligible participants apply for HUD Housing Choice Voucher assistance.
According to the study, DHAP-Katrina participants were primarily small households headed by people aged 25 to 54 at program entry, but also included small numbers of elderly people and young heads of households under age 25. Somewhat surprising, according to the authors, was that 27% of participants were single individuals under the age of 55. The median amount of assistance (DHAP-Katrina and TCP) was $7,620 for Phase 1 participants and $9,000 for Phase 2 and 3 participants. The later groups also participated in the TCP at significantly higher rates --53% were still enrolled in August 2009 compared to just 10% of Phase 1 participants. The median length of participation did not vary by need (assessed by case management tier groups) but subsidy and hardship exemptions were highly correlated with length of stay: 85% of those that received first month subsidies of $1,201 or more and 90% of participants that received hardship exemptions stayed longer than one year.
The survey also found that while 50% of Phase 1 and 41% of Phase 2 and 3 participants transitioned to HUD’s voucher program, many DHAP-Katrina participants were still at risk of housing instability. Employment levels across phase groups were lower than at the onset of DHAP-Katrina, households had little or no savings (92% had less than $500), and expenses were higher than before the hurricanes. The authors did not find evidence that the incremental rent assistance in Phase 1 negatively affected post-program housing outcomes. They also concluded that the zero rent strategy in Phase 2 and 3 did not seem to help people save money, possibly because even without the expense of rent, their incomes were too low to save after paying for other household expenses.
Most participants surveyed reported being in stable housing, but nearly one-fifth of all participants had to double-up or experienced homelessness in the past 12 months, a rate higher than the national average. Significantly more Phase 2 and 3 participants faced these issues (27% compared to 18%. Phase 1 participants who received a hardship exemption during their DHAP-Katrina participation but did not receive a voucher later were more likely to have experienced housing instability at the time of the follow-up survey. Voucher receipt was highly correlated with stable housing, controlling for other variables, but when asked to include utilities in their rent, 47% of assisted households and 40% of unassisted households still pay 50% or more of their income on rent and utilities.
Only 54% of Phase 2 and 3 participants (compared to 63% of Phase 1 participants) felt the case management services helped them get back on their feet. Fifty-seven percent of all participants were referred for help searching for housing but fewer than 20% received referrals related to financial security. Further, Phase 2 and 3 participants were less likely than their counterparts to receive referrals for accessing benefits, credit counseling and job training. The authors argued that while benefits and employment related referrals are outside of HUD’s purview, future disaster assistance programs for similar populations must incorporate these efforts.
The Study of Household Transition from the Disaster Housing Assistance Program used data from administrative sources and two rounds of survey data, the first conducted by HUD as the program was ending and the follow-up survey conducted by Abt Associates two and half years afterward. The response rate for the initial survey was 48% and the follow-up survey, targeting those that had participated in the initial survey, had a response rate of 54%. To help account for non-respondents, responses were weighted using observable characteristics and experiences that might affect outcome: age, race, receipt of SSI, gender and participation in the TCP. The authors acknowledged that survey results might be skewed; it is possible that the survey respondents had more stable housing since the program ended, as they were more easily located than non-respondents.