3 Criticisms of Rapid Re-housing that Sound Valid, but Aren’t

written by Stuart Campbell
May 6, 2014

As rapid re-housing increases in popularity as a strategy to address homelessness, not surprisingly, it is coming under closer scrutiny. Rapid re-housing is designed to help families experiencing homelessness by providing them with the financial assistance and services they need in order to return to permanent housing. It has been proven to be incredibly successful at doing that, but like any new idea, it has its detractors. Naturally, some people who have worked in the homeless assistance field for years, relying on strategies they are more familiar with, might be skeptical. With today’s blog post, I’d like to take a look at three of the most common criticisms of rapid re-housing that I’ve heard, and discuss why these criticisms aren’t valid.

  1. Rapid Re-housing doesn’t address the root causes of homelessness.

One common criticism of rapid re-housing is that it doesn’t address the underlying causes of poverty and homelessness. And that would be a perfectly valid criticism if rapid re-housing was meant to address the underlying causes of poverty and homelessness. But it’s not. If you dive down a little deeper, you begin to see that rapid re-housing excels at what it is: a crisis intervention tool. It is designed, through flexible, client driven financial support and services tailored to the household’s needs, to quickly return the family or individual to permanent housing.

  1. Rapid re-housing isn’t a long-term solution.

One common mistake that critics of rapid re-housing make is comparing it to more powerful, but less available solutions like Section 8, a federal voucher program that provides permanent rental assistance to qualified recipients. Section 8 would, in many cases, be a better, long-term solution, but even though Congress is moving toward increasing Section 8 housing vouchers, most increased funding will go toward renewal vouchers, with significant unmet need remaining.

Washington, DC, for example, has more than 10,000 current recipients of the Housing Choice voucher program, with a staggering 70,000 more individuals on the DC Housing Choice waiting list. The wait time for some is estimated to be as long as 28 years.

  1. Families served through rapid re-housing sometimes become homeless again.

Critics of rapid re-housing often point to the unfortunate fact that some families who access rapid re-housing fall back into homelessness. While undoubtedly true, when you compare return rates of rapid re-housing to traditional interventions such as shelters or transitional housing, the return rate to homelessness for families served by rapid re-housing is actually quite low. A statewide study in Georgia found transitional housing and shelter recipients were between four and five times more likely to return to homelessness than recipients of rapid re-housing. Several other studies have pretty consistently found that rapid re-housing programs see between 80 percent and 90 percent success rates.

Rapid re-housing is by no means the solution to the broad affordable housing crisis facing this country. There isn’t a single county in the U.S. where a single adult working a 40-hour a week job on minimum wage could afford a market rate one-bedroom apartment, according Out of Reach, a recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. But as a crisis intervention for someone experiencing homelessness, rapid re-housing is an important first step in getting that person off the street or out of the shelter and back into permanent housing.