Negative Exits from Housing Programs Associated with Homelessness

An article published in Housing Policy Debate, “Associations Between Exit Type From Federal Housing Assistance and Subsequent Homelessness,” examines the associations between exits from federal housing assistance programs and subsequent homelessness in King County, Washington. The authors find that exiting housing assistance for a negative reason was associated with a higher risk of becoming homeless within a year, while exiting for a positive reason was associated with a lower risk of homelessness.

The researchers analyzed administrative data associated with 16,301 individuals who exited from federally subsidized housing in King County, Washington. Reasons for exit were classified as positive, negative, or neutral. Positive exits included homeownership, increases in income, and moves to unsubsidized housing. Neutral exits included moving in with family or friends or to unknown locations. Negative exits included evictions and lease violations.

Of the 16,301 individuals, 18% (2,946) had a positive exit, 50% (8,189) had a neutral exit, and 33% (5,531) had a negative exit. Across all exit types, 16% (2,703) of individuals experienced homelessness within one year of exit. However, homelessness occurred for a greater share of individuals who experienced negative exits (25%) compared to those who experienced neutral (14%) or positive exits (3%). After adjusting for household demographics, the researchers found that, within one year of exit, individuals with negative exits were 75% more likely to experience homelessness than individuals with neutral exits, and individuals with positive exits were 81% less likely to experience homelessness than individuals with neutral exits.

The researchers also considered the length of time between exit and homelessness and found that the time was shortest for individuals who experienced negative exits (296 days), compared to individuals who experienced neutral exits (325 days) and individuals who experienced positive exits (358 days). Across all exit types, the highest risk of experiencing homelessness occurred within the first 50 days.

The authors note limitations about the generalizability of their findings because the two public housing authorities (PHAs) in the study had unique resources and administrative flexibility due to their participation in the Moving to Work (MTW) program. They conclude that additional steps are needed to better understand and prevent negative exits. PHAs could provide financial literacy and skills training to prevent negative exits and connect tenants with wrap-around services when negative exits occur. Further, given that neutral exits are also associated with higher risk of homelessness, the researchers encourage PHAs to establish programs and policies that will promote increased income, long-term rental opportunities, and homeownership to facilitate positive exits from assistance. 

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