Helping Lowest Income Families Survive a Crisis and Remain in their Homes

Short-Term Financial Assistance Promotes Housing Stability, Reduces Costs

On the federal level, one of the priorities of the Opportunity Starts at Home multi-sector affordable homes campaign is to urge Congress to create a “National Housing Stabilization Fund.”

Such a Stabilization Fund would provide short-term financial assistance and stability services to help poor households overcome an economic crisis that threatens their housing stability.  The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) shared this information in this week’s Memo to Members.

Most families in poverty who rent spend at least half of their incomes on housing, leaving virtually no margin for an unexpected expense. Broken-down cars, unreimbursed medical bills, or temporary declines of income can quickly send vulnerable households down the spiral of housing instability, eviction, and even homelessness.

What if there was a funding source for short-term financial assistance that counselors and case managers working with local coordinated assessment and coordinated entry teams and Continuums of Care could use to help fix a car, pay a medical bill or pay the rent until those affected could get back to work?

NJCounts 2019 asked households to share the primary factor that contributed to, or caused, their homelessness. The second most common factor reported was loss or reduction of job income (13.6%) followed by eviction (11.8%.) Other factors shared included household breakup or death in the household, physical illness and injury.

The primary purpose of a Stabilization Fund would be to cover the temporary gaps between income and rental costs during a financial crisis. The secondary purpose would be to provide stability services, such as counselors and case management. When combined, such short-term housing assistance and support services can significantly reduce evictions and homelessness. Where these crisis assistance programs exist, but the need far exceeds the program resources available.

Research has found that families and individuals who have participated in similar types of programs often have permanent housing by the end of the program. Studies also find that providing a small amount of preventative, short-term assistance is more cost-effective than the long-term social and economic consequences of housing instability, eviction, and homelessness.

Just some research related to such programs:

  • A review of the recession-era Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program and its short-term assistance and prevention services components found 71.6% of participants who were either imminently losing their housing or unstably housed upon entry into the program exited to stable housing.
  • A review of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) prevention program, which provides short-term financial assistance and other supports to veterans at risk of homelessness, found 91% of participants maintained their housing or exited to permanent housing.

The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign’s Legislative Working Group has been meeting regularly with Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate to advance this policy concept into legislation during the 116th Congress.