An article in Housing Policy Debate, “‘Many of us have been previously evicted’: Exploring the relationship between homelessness and evictions among families participating in the Rapid Rehousing Program in Salt Lake County, Utah,” identifies reasons why some Rapid Rehousing Program (RRHP) participants subsequently face eviction and homelessness. Interviews with participants, case managers, and landlords suggest that many program participants struggle to find landlords willing to rent to them, and that they are unable to pay the rent after short-term subsidies end.
RRHP provides short-term rental and move-in assistance, housing search services, and case management to households experiencing homelessness. Participants must earn less than 30% of the area median income and be assessed as able to eventually pay rent on their own. Previous research has found that, compared to the usual care provided through emergency shelters, RRHP is cheaper and allows households to exit homelessness more quickly (see Memo, 10/22/2018 and 1/22/2019). RRHP is designed to be used for 3-6 months on average, though a household can receive assistance for up to 24 months.
While about 70% of RRHP participants find permanent housing within 3 months, 10-50% of participants become homeless again within two years. To understand the barriers faced by participants when trying to secure and maintain permanent housing, the authors conducted three focus groups with six service providers/case managers and 23 families staying in Salt Lake County’s The Road Home family shelter. Families were eligible to participate if they had been rehoused through RRHP and subsequently returned to the emergency shelter. The authors asked tenants about their experiences finding housing and case managers and landlords about their experiences with leasing and evictions. The authors also interviewed two landlords who participate in RRHP.
Program participants reported difficulty finding landlords willing to work with RRHP, which may in part be due to the uncertainties of how long a RRHP subsidy will last. Case managers and service providers reported that small landlords are more likely to accept RRHP vouchers and generally more willing to accept tenants with bad credit history, criminal records, or prior evictions. HUD’s 2016 Family Options Study found that nearly 40% of RRHP participants had a prior eviction. Case managers reported that due to difficulty finding willing landlords, participants with such records often cluster in the same lower-quality apartment complexes. Such clustering may compound the difficulties that people with a criminal record or recovering from an addiction face.
Interviewees reported several reasons some RRHP participants eventually return to the emergency shelter system. Families reported that medical emergencies, unreliable jobs, low-paid jobs, transportation issues, criminal charges, childcare issues, and problems related to substance abuse made it difficult to stay in their homes. The most common reason cited, however, was simply that households were not able to pay rent after the subsidy ended.
The authors report three recommendations suggested by interviewees to improve long-term outcomes, though all three would require significant increases in funding. First, interviewees recommended that administering agencies dedicate more time and resources to preparing families for the RRHP subsidy by providing more employment training or credit repair programs. The authors note that HUD’s Family Options Study did not find that transitional housing, which often offers these types of support, was more effective in the long run, despite offering more preparation. Second, administering agencies could master-lease apartments and sublease them to RRHP tenants, which could provide greater security for landlords and protect program participants from evictions that could harm future housing searches. Third, administering agencies might avoid some evictions by providing more information about the program to landlords or by facilitating structured dialogue between landlords and tenants. The authors note that while such recommendations might improve outcomes, long-term subsidies like the Housing Choice Voucher program are better suited to reduce homelessness and housing insecurity.
The article can be found at: https://bit.ly/2L6R7WS