New Research on Emergency Housing Voucher Program Identifies Strategies to Address Homelessness, Including in Tight Housing Markets

New research released by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation, “Using Emergency Housing Vouchers to Address Homelessness,” explores the opportunities and challenges associated with the Emergency Housing Voucher (EHV) program. Using data from HUD’s EHV Data Dashboard and interviews with staff at public housing authorities (PHAs) and local homelessness systems in California, the analysis describes strategies used by jurisdictions to successfully issue and lease-up their EHVs. The report also highlights lessons learned for future EHV and other voucher programs. Additional support made available through EHVs – including investing in local Coordinated Entry Systems, funding navigation services, and creating incentives for landlords – could make the traditional Housing Choice Voucher program more effective in stably housing people, even in tight housing markets.

The “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” (ARPA) appropriated funding for 70,000 EHVs to serve those who are currently experiencing or at risk of homelessness. PHAs were also awarded an additional $3,500 per EHV to use towards housing navigation services and supportive services. PHAs were required to coordinate with local Continuums of Care (CoCs) to identify eligible recipients for the vouchers. They could also set higher payment standards for EHVs – up to 120% of HUD’s Fair Market Rent – making a wider range of units eligible for the program.

As of February 2023, two-thirds (67%) of all awarded EHVs had been successfully leased across the country. However, rates of success varied across PHAs. While a majority of PHAs had leased over 75% of their EHVs, nearly one-fifth (22%) had leased fewer than half of their allocated vouchers. Additionally, 15% of PHAs still had at least a quarter of their EHVs left to issue to households. While states like Washington and California successfully leased over 96% and 63% of their awarded EHVs, respectively, others, like Georgia, had yet to issue over a quarter of their allocated vouchers.

Interviewees from PHAs in California reported challenges coordinating with local homelessness systems to identify eligible participants for the EHV program. Coordinated Entry Systems, which refer people experiencing homelessness to existing housing assistance programs, had limited capacity to match eligible candidates with the new EHV program, leading to administrative delays. They emphasized the need for a strong relationship between PHAs and local CoCs, as well as rigorous interagency coordination to implement the program. Researchers found that many agencies used the EHV program to improve or build these partnerships. For example, some jurisdictions developed partnerships to identify eligible participants exiting other short-term assistance programs, like Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance program or rapid re-housing, who were still at risk of homelessness. Some PHAs used the $3,500 flexible spending supplement to increase staffing for their Coordinated Entry Systems.

Interviewees also spoke of the challenges of leasing an EHV in a tight housing market, despite higher potential payment standards compared to traditional vouchers. Several PHAs used the flexible spending supplement to provide housing navigation and other support services to help voucher holders find available and appropriate units and navigate challenging application processes. Some PHAs also used funds to hire outreach staff and brokers to meet with landlords and encourage renting to voucher holders, improving the likelihood of EHV holders finding a unit.

Interviewees recognized landlords’ unwillingness to participate in voucher programs as another barrier to eligible participants, especially Black and Native American people and people of color, who are often overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness. Some PHAs developed one-time bonus programs using supplemental funds to incentivize participation. Funds also went to bring units up to HUD Housing Quality Standards and cover security deposits and other reimbursement funds to cover any future damage. These incentives helped foster relationships and build trust with landlords and further encourage their participation in ongoing Housing Choice Voucher programs.

The strategies outlined in this research point to how jurisdictions can better utilize their EHVs to address homelessness. They also point to lessons that can be applied to future allocations of EHVs and the ongoing Housing Choice Voucher program. Provision of a flexible supplemental fee, higher eligible rent ceilings, and investments in and partnerships with local homelessness systems help connect voucher holders to available units and improve success with EHVs.

Read more about the Terner Center’s research at:

Find additional information on EHV success rates on HUD’s dashboard here.