Latino Households Face Challenges in Accessing Housing Assistance Programs

A new study published in Cityscape, “Understanding Low-Income Hispanic Housing Challenges and the Use of Housing and Homelessness Assistance,” finds that despite facing severe housing challenges, Latino households do not access housing resources and programs at rates relative to their poverty level. Latinos make up 18% of the U.S. population but as much as 27% of those living below the poverty line. They account for 19% of all households living in subsidized housing. This rate aligns with their share of the total population, but not with their income eligibility for HUD programs.

To examine Latino representation in housing programs and in the homeless population, the authors created a database of HUD program utilization rates and HUD Point in Time (PIT) homelessness counts. While Latinos account for up to 27% of the population in poverty, they account for 24% of households in public housing, 18% of households with Housing Choice Vouchers, and 16% of households in project-based Section 8 homes. As of 2019, Latinos comprised 22% of the population experiencing homelessness.

To examine variation in experiences by county, the authors used the dataset they assembled to identify counties in which Latino people were underrepresented in HUD housing, overrepresented in the homeless population, sheltered at lower rates than other non-Latino people experiencing homelessness, or all the above. Of the 3,076 counties that have HUD-subsidized stock, Latino underutilize the stock in 71%, indicating that they make up a larger share of the poverty population than of the population in HUD-subsidized properties in those counties. Counties where Latinos are underrepresented in HUD-subsidized housing have higher shares of Latino residents, a higher Latino poverty rate, a larger share of foreign-born Latino residents, and a larger share of the foreign-born who are noncitizens.

Getting accurate county-level estimates of overrepresentation or underrepresentation among people experiencing homelessness is more difficult, because in many counties the Latino population is very small. In the 786 counties with at least 5,000 Latino people, Latinos are overrepresented among those experiencing homeless in just 15%. The counties where Latinos are highly overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness are concentrated in the West and Midwest, particularly the mountain states and west north central states. Though Latinos are often underrepresented among people experiencing homelessness, the authors note that this does not show they do not face serious housing challenges. Instead, it may reflect barriers to access to homelessness services or coping mechanisms that involve serious hardship—like accepting overcrowded or poorer quality housing.

To better identify reasons for lower levels of access to subsidized housing, the authors conducted a case study of Latino households in Philadelphia, where there is a growing Latino population and increasing attention on Latino homelessness. For the case study, they drew on data from the Philadelphia Housing Authority and qualitative surveys with 15 Latino community stakeholders. Interviewees cited required English proficiency, literacy, and immigration-status concerns as systemic barriers to access. While few interviewees believed that the PHA or city actively discriminates against Latino residents, they indicated that perceptions of government may affect the extent to which Latino residents choose to access programs. The interviewees noted that Latino Philadelphians depend on social networks including immediate family and neighbors to find and retain housing, which may result in fewer opportunities to interact with homelessness services or municipal agencies.

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