The Impact of Housing Subsidies, Rapid Re-Housing, and Transitional Housing on Family Homelessness and Well-being

The Family Options Study examines the effectiveness and cost of three crisis interventions - transitional housing, rapid re-housing and usual care


On July 8, 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published the 18- month outcomes from the Family Options Study: Short-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families. The study showed that an offer of housing subsidies or rapid re-housing reduced episodes of homelessness in emergency shelter and transitional housing compared to the assistance that families would normally have received and that both housing subsidies and rapid re-housing were cost effective. Families offered transitional housing did not receive significant benefit despite the fact that transitional housing was the most costly intervention.

  • For families offered housing subsidies, which primarily consisted of a Housing Choice Voucher, their combined emergency shelter and transitional housing stays were 3.1 months, compared to 5.2 months for families assigned to usual care.
  • Families offered housing subsidies experienced many substantial improvements in adult and child well-being.
  • For families offered rapid re-housing, combined emergency shelter and transitional housing stays were 4.6 months, compared to 5.5 months for families assigned to usual care.
  • The total cost of assistance for families offered housing subsidies was similar to that for families receiving usual care over the 18 month period.
  • The total cost of assistance for families offered rapid re-housing was approximately $3,000 lower than for families assigned to usual care over the 18 month period.
  • Families offered transitional housing generally did not fare better than those assigned to usual care and the cost of serving them was significantly higher than for families assigned to usual care.

In this brief, we outline the study’s key findings and delve further into the policy implications for Continuums of Care (CoCs) Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) Program recipients, as well as Public Housing Agencies (PHAs).

Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness established a goal to end homelessness for families by 2020, and HUD has been analyzing the results of the Family Options Study to better inform its efforts. Opening Doors called for more affordable housing overall, more supportive housing for families with the greatest needs, and an increase in rapid rehousing. The release of the 18 month outcomes of the Family Options Study gives HUD further insight into the impacts of various interventions on families’ homelessness and other outcomes.

Family Options Study Design

The Family Options Study is a long-term, multi-site experimental study designed to examine how homeless families residing in emergency shelter responded to various interventions designed to help them exit homelessness. The study compares the effects of the offer of three interventions–permanent housing subsidy (SUB), community-based rapid re-housing (CBRR), and project-based transitional housing (PBTH)–to one another and to the usual care (UC) available to homeless families. SUB, CBRR, and PBTH are distinguished from one another by the duration of the housing assistance provided and the type and intensity of supportive services offered. UC consists of emergency shelter and housing or services that families would normally access in their communities.

The Family Options study enrolled 2,282 families across 12 communities. 1 Each family had spent at least 7 days in emergency shelter. After providing informed consent and completing a baseline survey, the families were randomly assigned to one of the three interventions or to usual care. Random assignment yielded groups of families with no systematic differences in baseline characteristics. Families were free to take up their assigned interventions or to make other arrangements, and ultimately families used a mix of programs, often including programs other than the type to which they were assigned.

The 18 month outcomes report presents the short-term impacts of the interventions in five domains: (1) housing stability, (2) family preservation, (3) adult well-being, (4) child wellbeing, and (5) self-sufficiency. The report also describes the relative costs of the interventions based on program use during the first 18 month follow-up period. A subsequent report will present impacts on those five domains for the participating families 36 months after random assignment to their intervention along with the costs of the interventions over the longer period.

Family Eligibility and Uptake of Interventions

In general, there were two reasons that families did not utilize the program to which they were randomly assigned–either they were not eligible or they did not want it. Basic eligibility for all interventions was determined when families enrolled in the study and families were only randomly assigned to interventions for which they were determined eligible; however, in some cases families who passed the initial screening and were randomly assigned to an intervention were later deemed ineligible by the provider administering that intervention, usually due to unique eligibility criteria that were not known by the individuals determining initial eligibility. Compared with rapid re-housing and subsidies, transitional housing had the highest proportion of families deemed ineligible after random assignment, making it the least accessible to families, while subsidies were the most accessible to families.

Families that were determined to be eligible for a program could choose whether to utilize, or take up, the offered intervention. Take-up rates in the study tell a deeper story about what interventions families find desirable, which is an equally important factor to consider for policy implications of the study. Of families assigned to interventions, the study found that 84 percent of families took up subsidies, while only 60 percent took up rapid re-housing and 54 percent took up transitional housing. 3 The qualitative interviews conducted show that the possibility of having one’s own place was an important consideration for families and it could explain at least some of the discrepancy in take-up rates between transitional housing, subsidies, and rapid rehousing. The researchers found some evidence that rapid re-housing’s lower take-up rate is related to its temporary nature, while subsidies are permanent, making them considerably more desirable than rapid re-housing. Some families interviewed in the qualitative sub-study said that another important consideration for them was the location of housing relative to support networks, employment, transportation, and children’s schooling. Subsidies and rapid re-housing allow for some choice on the part of families as to where they will live, while families receiving project-based transitional housing assistance had no choice and were required to live at the established locations of the transitional housing program.

Read the full report brief here.

Download the report here.