Follow-Up Family Options Study: Long-Term Housing Subsidies are Most Effective Intervention for Homeless Families

HUD released the follow-up findings of its Family Options Study, which show that after 37 months long-term housing subsidies, primarily Housing Choice Vouchers, remain the most effective intervention for homeless families as compared to community-based rapid rehousing and project-based transitional housing. The benefits of long-term housing subsidies extend beyond housing stability to other areas of well-being.

The Family Options Study is a randomized control study that analyzed the impacts and costs of three distinct interventions for addressing homelessness. Families in the study were randomly assigned priority access to one of three interventions after spending at least seven days in emergency shelters. Each intervention was compared to the “usual care” in the community offered to a sample of families who did not receive priority access to one of the three interventions. The three interventions were:

  • Deep, long-term housing subsidy, such as a Housing Choice Voucher, not paired with services.
  • Community-based rapid re-housing providing short-term rental assistance for up to 18 months paired with limited services.
  • Project-based transitional housing providing a service-intensive stay for up to 24 months in a project-based transitional housing facility.

Nearly 2,300 homeless families across 12 U.S. cities participated in the study over the course of 37 months. Family data were collected and analyzed across five domains: housing stability, family preservation, adult well-being, child well-being, and self-sufficiency. HUD released an earlier report on outcomes 20 months after the intervention (Memo, 7/13/2015). This follow-up report is based on outcomes 37 months after the intervention. The findings at 37 months largely mirror those observed at 20 months.

Long-term housing subsidies had a significantly positive impact on housing stability relative to usual care. They reduced the proportion of families being homeless or doubled-up in the previous six months by 50% and reduced the proportion of families who experienced a shelter stay by 75%. Project-based transitional housing also reduced the proportion of families who experienced a shelter stay, but did not reduce the proportion of families being homeless or doubled up in the previous six months. Community-based rapid rehousing had no discernable impact on housing stability after 37 months.

Long-term housing subsidies also had positive impacts on some areas of adult well-being. They reduced psychological distress and intimate partner violence, which could be the result of permanent housing subsidies providing support for recipients as they leave abusive relationships; long-term subsidies were associated with a greater number of couple separations during the study period. Project-based transitional housing reduced the proportion of adults with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms but had no other impact on adult well-being. Community-based rapid rehousing had no discernable impact on adult well-being.

Regarding child well-being, long-term housing subsidies reduced behavior problems, the number of schools attended, and sleep problems. Community-based rapid rehousing reduced behavior problems, but had no other impacts. Project-based transitional housing had negligible impacts on child well-being.

Regarding family self-sufficiency, long-term subsidies reduced the proportion of families who were food insecure, but also slightly reduced labor force participation. Community-based rapid rehousing appeared to have a positive impact on food security and family income at 20 months, but these effects were not observed at 37 months. Project-based transitional housing also had no discernable positive impacts on family self-sufficiency at 37 months.

Thirty-seven months after intervention, community-based rapid rehousing cost approximately 10% less than usual care, while project-based transitional housing and long-term housing subsidies cost 3.6% and 8.6% more. Long-term housing subsidies appear to offer significantly better outcomes for homeless families compared to usual care at only a marginally higher cost within the study’s timeframe.

In their summary of the study’s findings, the authors conclude that “having priority access to deep long-term housing subsidies produces substantial benefits for families” and “for most families, homelessness is a housing affordability problem that can be remedied with long-term housing subsidies without specialized services.”

Family Options Study: 3-Year Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families is available at: