Rapid re-housing is the practice of focusing resources on helping families and individuals quickly move out of homelessness and into permanent housing, which is usually housing in the private market. Services to support rapid re-housing include housing search and landlord negotiation, short-term financial and rental assistance, and the delivery of home-based housing stabilization services, as needed. Priority is placed on helping individuals and families move into permanent housing as rapidly as possible and providing services to help them maintain housing. Rapid re-housing has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing homelessness, particularly among families. Rapid re-housing also increases turnover in shelters, which allows them to accommodate more families without increasing capacity.
Problem or Challenge:
Families and individuals become homeless for many different reasons. Once they become homeless, they often find it very difficult to get back into housing because they do not have enough money to pay move-in costs like security deposits, rent for the first and last month, and utilities. Without a stable place to live, it can be hard to address other challenges. As a result some people stay in shelters for weeks or months trying to save enough money and overcome other barriers to getting housing. Extended stays in shelter are stressful for families and individuals and costly for homeless service providers.
Rapid re-housing serves individuals and families experiencing homelessness who need time-limited assistance in order to get and keep housing. It reduces the length of time people experience homelessness, minimizes the impact of homelessness on their lives, and facilitates their access to resources in the community. Rapid re-housing programs often use a relatively light-touch approach to financial assistance and supportive services, seeking to provide just enough assistance to help people get back into housing, while being available to offer additional support or connections to other resources and programs if more help is needed. Rapid re-housing does not necessarily ensure that people will have housing that meets the affordability standard (meaning housing where the tenant pays only 30 percent of their income toward housing costs), nor is it designed to eliminate poverty or housing mobility. Even so, data from some experienced programs indicate that 90 percent of households served by rapid re-housing are successfully housed and do not return to shelter. Compared to long stays in shelters and transitional housing programs, the rapid re-housing approach allows communities to assist more households with the same resources.
Many experienced rapid re-housing programs have comparable core team structures: a team leader; housing case managers or advocates who support clients in various phases of housing stability; and a housing specialist who specializes in working with landlords and helping people find housing. Typically each housing case manager or advocate serves about 20 to 25 households at any point in time that are at different stages of the program and housing stability. Housing specialists should have a thorough understanding of how rental markets work and the business of being a landlord.
Rapid re-housing programs are commonly based on a set of core strategies. The entire process may be managed by one agency or by several agencies, each with a defined role in the partnership.
1. Rapid engagement with a focus on housing. The household is assisted to obtain permanent housing, usually by renting an apartment or home from a private landlord, as quickly as possible. While there is no universal deadline or time limit that defines rapid, some programs have a goal of engaging households in rapid re-housing services within two weeks after they enter shelter and helping them find housing within a month. Even with housing search assistance from the program, it may take days or weeks for a household to find a vacancy in housing they can afford with a landlord who will accept their rental history. The essential point is that permanent housing is the immediate goal. People are not required to wait in temporary housing while they attend classes, save money, acquire skills, or otherwise demonstrate housing readiness. They move directly into permanent housing. If they need to develop skills to sustain their housing, they can develop them in their own housing.
Experienced programs have found that the promise of a quick move is highly motivating for people. They have also found that cultural competency is critical to the engagement process and that staff members who have personally experienced homelessness are often more likely to make a connection with the household.
Services and case management are voluntary, very flexible, tailored to the needs of each household and focused on overcoming the household’s barriers to getting and keeping housing. Households are empowered to make their own choices about housing and services and to respond to the consequences of those decisions. Household problems that are not directly related to housing are addressed only if and when the participant chooses.
2. Coordinated screening and intake. Increasingly, rapid re-housing programs are connected to a community or region-wide coordinated entry system that determines household eligibility and refers eligible households to the program. Screening criteria focus on eligibility requirements associated with the program’s funding, which usually includes a determination that a household is experiencing homelessness and would be unlikely to return to housing quickly without additional assistance. Screening criteria may also be used to identify households that are likely to need long term assistance to maintain housing stability. Other interventions such as permanent supportive housing may be more appropriate for those households.
In some communities one or more shelters hire rapid re-housing staff to do screening and identify people who will be offered rapid re-housing assistance. These staff may also locate housing, resettle households from shelter, and provide stabilization follow-up. Other communities have a free-standing rapid re-housing program that is not attached to a shelter that takes referrals from partnering shelters in the community.
3. Housing-based assessment. Rapid re-housing assessments focus on two sets of challenges: barriers to getting housing (tenant screening barriers) and barriers to retaining housing. Household interviews can elicit much of the information, although supplementing and/or confirming facts with a public database or reference check is useful. If the staff knows in advance what the landlord will see, staff can better design strategies to help the participant.
Tenant screening barriers are any problems that are likely to cause a household’s rental application to be rejected by a landlord. To understand how landlords screen and make tenant selection decisions, many programs will use a survey, focus group, or advisory group of landlords who can explain their criteria and how they are used to accept or deny a housing application.
Rapid re-housing programs use an assessment tool to assess what is necessary, relevant, and immediate for the household to get and keep housing. Assessments are also used to identify the household’s service needs. While the form of the assessment tool used by programs varies, an example is the Rapid Re-Housing Triage Tool developed by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. This tool uses the household’s barriers to getting and keeping housing as a guide for determining type, length, and intensity of rapid re-housing services and financial assistance.
4. Housing Plan. Most households experiencing homelessness have two major barriers to securing housing: lack of income and savings and tenant screening barriers. Poor credit histories, unpaid debt, late payments, and eviction for nonpayment of rent are common reasons landlords deny rental applications. The rapid re-housing plan, developed collaboratively between the rapid re-housing staff and the household, outlines the actions needed to overcome or minimize these two critical barriers. The plan identifies and utilizes community resources to address financial and personal housing problems to the maximum extent possible and supplements these with resources from the rapid re-housing program itself. It assigns action steps for both the household and the staff and sets expectations for how long the rapid re-housing program will be available to the household and the landlord for problem solving. The plan is frequently revisited and updated.
5. Streamlining Access to Housing. Rapid re-housing programs work aggressively to identify housing options in the community through on-going housing search and cultivating relationships with landlords. Because the incomes of households experiencing homelessness are so low, finding low-cost housing units is critically important. Rapid re-housing programs work with each household to find an available rental unit with a focus on safety and other considerations that are important to the household, such as proximity to the children’s school and to support networks, including relatives, friends, church, and familiar surroundings.
For some households this may mean finding the smallest unit they can tolerate in the least expensive area where they can find safe housing. For others it may mean sharing an apartment, either with family members or with others. If the joined household has two wage earners the combined income may be the best possible safety net against future homelessness. Rapid re-housing staff can help the household negotiate the details of home-sharing and develop house rules for behaviors that have caused conflict in the past and may reoccur.
While waiting lists for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and other permanent rental subsidies are often very long, effective rapid re-housing programs also assist households in applying for every type of subsidy and viable subsidized housing unit for which the household qualifies even if there is a waiting list.
6. Working with Landlords. Landlords are a rapid re-housing program’s most valued resource. Successful programs spend considerable time recruiting and negotiating with private owners and property managers of rental housing and with local housing authorities
Households participating in rapid re-housing programs can have tenant screening barriers that are complex and take considerable time to overcome. The rapid re-housing program must help the household convince the landlord to rent to them while they work on resolving some of these barriers. In some programs, this convincing takes the form of a written partnership agreement with the landlord that guarantees the program’s prompt response to landlord concerns, support services to the household for a defined period, mediation in the event of landlord-tenant dispute, and a commitment to cover at least a portion of the cost of a court eviction, move-out, or excessive damage if the placement is not successful. Many programs have found that if the landlord has had a positive experience with a rapid re-housing participant, the landlord will look to the program again for future tenant referrals.
7. Financial assistance. Most rapid re-housing programs provide financial assistance to help participants remove barriers to entry into housing. This may include transportation for housing search and one-time financial assistance to help with paying for security deposits, application fees, moving costs, utility connection fees or arrearages, and first and last month’s rent. Some programs provide financial incentives to landlords to rent to families with challenging rental histories such as additional months of rent upfront or doubling the security deposit. Having at least one source of funds that can be used flexibly allows rapid re-housing programs to adapt their assistance to the specific, immediate needs of the household.
Rapid re-housing programs usually provide some form of temporary rental assistance. Programs use one of two common methods to determine how much assistance each household receives: 1) using a triage tool during the initial assessment process to determine which households require temporary rental assistance and for how long; or 2) taking a “wait and see” approach, providing a short-term subsidy and extending its term should a household not succeed with more limited assistance. Under this approach the program re-evaluates the family’s housing and employment situation at regular intervals (such as every three months); rental assistance and additional services are extended as needed.
Many programs have found that the deeper the temporary subsidy, the greater the risk that the household will be unable to pay the rent when it expires. To avoid this cliff effect some rapid re-housing programs structure the temporary rental assistance as a shallow flat subsidy or a stepped-down subsidy that is gradually reduced over time.
8. Housing stabilization supports. The rapid re-housing plan includes strategies and supports to overcome or minimize recurrent, significant barriers to retaining housing. Development of this aspect of the plan commonly occurs after the individual or family has been housed. Experienced programs have found that households are most at risk for another episode of homelessness during the first 90 days in permanent housing so the need for intensive services is often greater during this period.
Home visits are important for many participants because the visits allow the case manager to connect with the family or individual where they live. While the frequency of home visits varies depending on need, regular home visits offer an opportunity for staff to develop a strong relationship with the household. The staff role is to coach, model, and support the household toward housing stability. The length of service supports varies by program and household served, and some households will need and want very little service support from the program after they get settled into their own housing. Programs often make supportive services available as needed for a period of six to 12 months, and occasionally longer.
Effective rapid re-housing programs anticipate problems, working with the household to develop a plan to prevent, avoid, or resolve issues that have led to housing loss in the past. While some households can make use of linkages to community organizations that provide the services they need, others need more frequent and intensive home visits. These may include demonstrations of house-keeping skills, money-management and budgeting, development of grocery lists, and parenting support. Case managers ensure that households have 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.
Many rapid re-housing program staff report that after people feel a stake in their homes and develop confidence in their personal control they often ask for help improving their lives. Rapid re-housing staff members need to be knowledgeable about mainstream programs and services in the community so they can respond to these requests and proactively offer help.
9. Linkages to income supports. Because rapid re-housing programs offer only time-limited rental assistance, many households will need to increase their incomes or access other forms of rental housing assistance in order to maintain long-term stability. To increase household income, programs also work to link participants to employment services and work supports, such as subsidized child care. Programs also assist the household in applying for every public benefit program for which they qualify, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI/SSDI), energy assistance, and other programs, as well as housing assistance available through public housing authorities.
Communities across the country have found that rapid re-housing has been effective in ending homelessness for many families and individuals. The practice has been in use since the late 1980s and early 1990s in several cities such as Minneapolis, Columbus, and Boston. It is being tested through a HUD demonstration program. Rapid re-housing was expanded nationwide with a major investment of funding that was available between 2009 and 2012 through the Recovery Act-funded Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).
Rapid re-housing programs have shown that with a modest amount of time-limited assistance, many families can return to housing and they can be successful tenants. Rapid re-housing reduces the length of time families stay in shelter, minimizing the destructive impacts of housing instability and related stress.
Rigorous, large-scale evaluations have not yet been completed. Findings of program-specific evaluations are fairly consistent, often reporting that 90 percent or more of households served remained housed and that very few households return to shelters. One challenge in evaluating the longer term impacts of rapid re-housing programs is that programs rarely stay in touch with households after time-limited services and financial assistance end. While data show that few families return to the homeless assistance system, more research is needed to determine how many families are successful in keeping their housing without ongoing financial assistance and to measure housing stability outcomes.
Early analysis of HPRP suggests that rapid re-housing is a more effective use of homeless assistance than homelessness prevention because of the difficulties in predicting which households at-risk of homelessness will actually become homeless without assistance.
Rapid Re-Housing: Creating Programs that Work, National Alliance to End Homelessness, July 2009.
Essential Elements of Successful Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing Programs, Parts I and II, Iain De Jong, January 2012. Blog Archive, National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Evidence-Based Practice: Rental Housing Assistance
Promising Practice: Streamlining Access to Housing
Promising Practice: Housing Stabilization Supports
Promising Practice: Coordinated Entry
Model Program: Homebase (New York, NY)
Model Program: Home Free Portland, OR
Model Program: HomeStart (Boston, MA)
Model Program: Landlord Liaison Project (Seattle, WA)
Model Program: Memphis Emergency Housing Partnership (Memphis, TN)