Housing Stabilization Supports
Housing stabilization services are an integral component of effective Rapid Re-housing interventions, and they can also be a component of homelessness prevention strategies. In these types of programs, housing stabilization services provide time-limited support to families and individuals who have experienced a housing crisis to help them maintain housing, increase or stabilize income, and make connections with services and supports to prevent the loss of housing in the future. Similar service strategies are also used in permanent supportive housing.
Problem or Challenge:
Many individuals and families experiencing homelessness have significant barriers to maintaining stable housing, such as lack of income and savings, extraordinary expenses related to health care or personal debt, or a track record of violating the terms of rental agreements. Housing stabilization services are provided to people transitioning from homelessness into permanent housing who need services to address these barriers and remain stable in housing. Many people can succeed in housing with short-term housing stabilization services, while others who have more significant challenges and live in permanent supportive housing may need ongoing assistance that includes similar service interventions that focus on housing stability. The services can also be helpful in preventing the loss of housing among people at imminent risk of homelessness.
Housing stabilization services are provided to help households that have experienced a housing crisis to remain stably housed in permanent housing. These services are most often needed at the point when families and individuals exit homelessness or a precarious housing situation into permanent housing. The supports consist of assessing, arranging, coordinating, and monitoring the delivery of individualized services to facilitate housing stability. Services are delivered in the participant’s home and in the community by a case manager, social worker, or advocate (collectively referred to in this profile as the “advocate”).
Most housing stabilization services are provided once the individual or family is in permanent housing, although services may also be provided to help a program participant to overcome immediate barriers to obtaining new housing. Housing stabilization supports are typically available to the household for a period of up to 24 months, depending on individual needs and the time limits of the local program.
“Housing stabilization supports” are sometimes distinguished from more traditional “case management” services by their intended role: staff who offer housing stabilization supports are focused on the household’s housing issues (and may offer services to the landlord as well as the tenant), while case managers are mainly involved in finding specific community resources to meet other related needs of the household, such as employment, health services, etc. In practice, these roles are often blended, with housing stabilization staff offering both direct services and making referrals to needed services, but with a focus on needs that can be addressed within a set time frame and with available resources. In fact, HUD refers to housing stabilization supports as “housing stability case management” within its Emergency Solutions Grant regulations.
While housing stabilization supports are generally time-limited, their overarching goal is to lay the groundwork for long-term housing stability. The focus of the supports is on maintaining housing, increasing or stabilizing income (both earned income from work and benefits), and making connections with services and supports to prevent the loss of housing again. Staff members support the household in getting a running start toward housing stability, and sometimes will “pass the baton” to another system if ongoing services are needed by the participant going forward. Similar service strategies are also used in permanent supportive housing, where housing stabilization supports may be available on an ongoing basis as needed.
Housing stabilization services commonly incorporate these elements:
Housing barriers assessment
Housing stabilization services are based on understanding the household’s barriers to getting and keeping housing, then finding ways to eliminate or compensate for those barriers. The first step in this process is a housing barriers assessment, conducted in-person between the advocate and members of the participating household.
The assessment focuses on the common expectations of tenancy (paying the rent, maintaining an apartment, occupancy by the tenant, and allowing others “quiet enjoyment”), identifying anything in the household’s current situation or past housing history that could present a challenge in meeting these expectations, and the household’s strengths and skills. Since the best predictor of the future is often the past, the advocate and family explore past reasons the family experienced housing loss – which may include nonpayment of rent, domestic violence, violation of rules (such as excessive noise), hoarding or other safety hazards, people moving in who were not on the lease, or other reasons. They also explore how the family has managed in the past, and what has and hasn’t worked before to avert housing loss.
Housing stabilization services are flexible and tailored to the needs of participants who are empowered to make their own choices about services and to respond to the consequences of those decisions. The household’s self-defined goals help to focus the services. The advocate explores with the family what goals are important to them (e.g., a safe place to live, work, enough money to live on, friends, a valued status and a role in the community, a chance for their children), what these choices mean, and what help and connections can support the participant in reaching these goals.
Housing stabilization plan and service delivery
The household and the advocate work together to develop a housing stabilization plan. This is best done after the household is in permanent housing and the immediate housing crisis has been resolved. The plan identifies and prioritizes actions to be taken by the staff and the participant within defined time frames, such as three month intervals. All of the interventions are related to keeping housing and to the participant’s individual goals. The primary focus is on the issues that affect housing retention – the cause of the current crisis and previous episodes of housing instability, and the most pressing needs that impact the current housing.
While some households need only linkages to community organizations that provide the services they need, others need more regular contact. Home visits enable the advocate to connect with the family or individual where they live and develop a strong relationship with the household. The type and frequency of home visits varies depending on need, but taper off as the household needs less intensive support. Home visits may include demonstrations of housekeeping skills, money management and budgeting, or other housing-related skills. Advocates ensure that every household has a basic understanding of their rights and responsibilities as a tenant and those of the landlord. They work with the household on strategies to increase income, reduce expenses, and set aside funds for an emergency reserve. They also may help a household relocate if necessary to avoid a return to homelessness. The advocate’s role is to coach, model, and support the household toward housing stability, but without coercion to enforce participation in services.
Experienced programs have found that households are most at risk for another episode of homelessness during the first 90 days in permanent housing, so service intensity is often greater during this period. A promising practice in housing stabilization is the use of Critical Time Intervention (CTI), a program model which has been recognized as an evidence-based practice for persons with mental illnesses and adapted for families and other individuals who have experienced homelessness. CTI assists people in stabilizing their housing by strengthening their ties to community services, family, and friends, and by the provision of a focused case management approach that is connected to the participant’s life goals. This time-limited approach employs three three-month phases of decreasing service intensity that begin as soon as the participant moves into permanent housing.
Housing stabilization programs are increasingly recognizing the importance of the support the individual or family receives “naturally,” i.e., from the individuals and organizations whose connections to the family are independent of the formal service system and its resources. This includes family members, friends, faith communities, and others. These sources of natural support can promote greater resiliency and are most likely to be available to the family after formal services have ended.
Connections to community services
Since housing stabilization services are usually brief, longer term needs must be addressed through connections to other resources. In development of the plan, the advocate helps the participant identify the resources needed to access or maintain housing, which may include income, credit repair, legal services, employment assistance, financial planning and management, access to medical services and child care, educational support, or access to other community-based services. The plan also outlines how the advocate will support the household in connecting with these mainstream and community-based benefits and services. Advocates work to link participants to employment services and work supports, and assist the household in applying for every public benefit program for which they qualify, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, TANF, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, SSI/SSDI, energy assistance and other programs.
Advocates need to be knowledgeable about programs and services in the community so they can proactively offer this help. Programs offering housing stabilization supports develop this knowledge among their advocates by developing a directory of resources, by arranging visits to programs, and—with agencies receiving many referrals – by making direct staff-to-staff connections, maintaining regular contact, trying out coordinated service planning, and conducting regular case conferencing.
Coordination with landlords and property managers
One of the goals for the individual or family may be to learn how to manage their tenancy obligations. A key to achieving this goal is active coordination between housing stabilization staff and the property manager of the housing. The structure of the lease can guide interventions focused on eviction prevention. Problems that threaten tenancy may motivate the participant to use other services in order to keep their housing.
Housing stabilization programs coordinate with landlords/property managers by providing written information on the program, explaining the role of the advocate as a resource, and proactively communicating with the landlord or manager on at least a monthly basis to ensure that tenant lease obligations are being met.
Housing stabilization plans are adjusted as needed at least every three months. Progress against the plan can be readily determined if the plan lays out documented steps to reach the goals and benchmarks set by the participant and the advocate.
Many families and individuals require some time to settle into a new routine, and that routine will be their primary concern for at least a few weeks. Programs often find that after participants feel ownership of their living space and develop confidence in their personal control, they ask for help improving their lives. Effective programs allow the household to determine new life goals for themselves at the time and in the sequence they choose, and adjust plans accordingly.
Homelessness Prevention: Creating Programs that Work, The National Alliance to End Homelessness, July 2009. Washington, D.C.
Rapid Re-Housing: Creating Programs that Work, National Alliance to End Homelessness, July 2009.
Case Management – Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, November 2009.
Evidence-Based Practice: Critical Time Intervention
Promising Practice: Rapid Re-Housing
Promising Practice: Homelessness Prevention
Model Program: Homebase, New York, NY
Model Program: Home Free, Volunteers of America, Portland, OR
Model Program: HomeStart, Boston, MA
Model Program: Memphis Emergency Housing Partnership, City of Memphis, TN