Rapid Re-Housing: Creating Programs that Work

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National Alliance to End Homelessness

Toolkits | July 29, 2009

Files: PDF | 799 KB | 82 pages

Rapid Re-Housing has become a major emphasis in communities’ strategies to end homelessness. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has targeted $1.5 billion through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). Rapid re-housing is also an emphasis in the recently enacted Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act. The priority for rapidly ending homelessness, when it occurs, is now a national one. Yet some jurisdictions and non-profit agencies that will receive HUD funding for rapid re-housing know little about how and why this approach can be implemented in their own communities. This Guide is designed to answer those questions.

Rapid Re-Housing is a strategy that has been successfully used by many communities to reduce homelessness. Today, most households become homeless as a result of a financial crisis that prevents them from paying the rent, or a domestic conflict that results in one member being ejected or leaving with no resources or plan for housing. Most households who become homeless today have already lived in independent permanent housing, and they can generally return and remain stably housed with limited assistance. And homelessness itself is associated with a host of negative outcomes that can be minimized by limiting the period of time people experience it. By helping homeless households return to permanent housing as soon as possible, communities have been able to reduce the length of time people remain in homeless shelters. This opens beds for others who need them, and reduces the public and personal costs of homelessness.

Rapid Re-Housing addresses the two primary obstacles homeless households face in trying to leave shelter:

Obtaining new rental housing is expensive.

Households with incomes far below the federal poverty level are usually extremely rent-burdened, sometimes paying as much as 80% of their income on rent and utilities. One relatively minor financial crisis—a missed day at a job that offers no sick leave, an unexpected car repair bill—can leave the household without enough money to pay the rent. Someone who became homeless because he or she was $300 short of the full rent is unlikely to have two thousand dollars (or more) for a new security deposit and first/last month’s rent. Waiting in shelter until it is possible to save enough money for housing start-up is a very poor use of scarce shelter resources.

Landlords often deny rental applications from extremely low-income households

To minimize the risk of unpaid rent, property damage and criminal activity, many landlords use public records and verification of information on the rental application to screen and select tenants. Tenant screening is based on the assumption that past behavior predicts future behavior and that lower income households are more likely to become delinquent on rent. Accordingly, people with prior problems are rejected. Red flags that tend to eliminate potential tenants include problems in past rental housing, criminal history, credit problems, excessive debt, and a poor employment or income situation. Unfortunately, many of these are poverty-related problems and people with extremely low incomes often have late or unpaid debts, a history that causes landlords to screen them out. Some also have a criminal history. Once homeless, a household can spend months filling out rental applications and paying application fees, only to be screened out by landlord after landlord. Some are only able to find poor-quality housing owned by “slumlords.” These are obstacles that housing locators can help address through advocacy. Successful programs have demonstrated that returning people to permanent housing as quickly as possible has positive outcomes for their clients and their communities. Rapid Re-Housing has become part of the national “toolkit” for communities seeking to end homelessness. Federal funding is now available to support these efforts.