Permanent Housing Subsidies Most Effective Intervention to Assure Housing Stability for Families Experiencing Homelessness

An interim report on research done for HUD by Abt Associates finds that permanent housing subsidies improve housing stability, along with several other positive effects for homeless families. The interim report is part of the Family Options Study, a randomized control study that examines the impacts and costs of three approaches to addressing homelessness:

  • Permanent housing subsidies, usually provided through the Housing Choice Voucher program;
  • Community-based rapid re-housing, which limited assistance to 18 months of temporary rental assistance paired with some services; and
  • Project-based transitional housing, which included up to 24 months of temporary housing paired with services.

Outcomes for families for each of these three interventions were compared to outcomes for families who did not receive assistance.

The 12-community study randomly assigned 2,282 families who had at least one child and who lived in emergency shelters to one of the four groups. Families were enrolled in the study between September 2010 and January 2012. Each head of household was surveyed 6, 12, 20, and 27 months after enrollment. Housing providers reported overhead, rental assistance, supportive services, operating, and capital costs. This interim report provides findings from the 20th month follow-up survey, which included questions about housing stability, as well as adult and child well-being.

Permanent housing subsidies had substantive positive effects for families, reducing the proportion of families returning to homelessness or doubling up during the six months prior to the follow-up survey by 28 percentage points, compared to families that did not receive immediate assistance. Eighty-four families did not use their permanent housing vouchers and were far more likely to experience housing instability prior to the follow-up survey. Permanent housing subsidies also decreased the prevalence of food insecurity, adult psychological distress, and alcohol and drug abuse. Permanent subsidies improved school stability by reducing the number of schools attended and school absences. The average cost of a permanent housing subsidy was $1,162 per month.

Families offered project-based transitional housing were also less likely to experience housing instability. The proportion of families with project-based transitional housing who returned to homelessness or doubled up during the six months prior to the follow-up survey was almost eight percentage points lower than the proportion of families that did not receive immediate assistance. Transitional housing also appeared to result in a small reduction in drug abuse. It had no measurable impact on school stability. The average cost of transitional housing was $2,706 per month.

Families receiving community-based rapid re-housing were just as likely to return to homelessness during the six months prior to the follow-up survey as families that did not receive immediate assistance. Families that received rapid re-housing had improved food security, but the evidence on child well-being was not clear. Community-based rapid re-housing was the least expensive intervention, costing an average of $878 per month.

Family Options Study: Short Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families is available at