Abt Associates: Bold thinkers driving real-world impact
In my final installment of this multi-part series, I’d like to dive deeper into my third suggestion for meeting the housing challenges of the lowest income renters: developing and testing lower cost options to enable us to serve more households with limited funding. This recommendation is intended to complement my first two suggestions – (1) expanding existing rental subsidy programs and (2) helping residents of subsidized housing make progress toward economic security, freeing up subsidies for others in need. By aggressively pursuing this three-part strategy – together with complementary actions to expand job opportunities paying a livable wage and reduce barriers to new development – we should be able to make a sizable dent in the housing challenges of very low-income renters.
There has been a lot of good thinking over the years about how to serve very low-income renters more efficiently. However, only modest progress has been made in developing the evidence base needed to evaluate the effectiveness of these ideas and quantify the savings that could be achieved if they were more widely adopted. The one exception is in the area of programs to promote housing stability among households that experience homelessness. Practitioners have developed a range of lower-cost program models that aim to end homelessness quickly or prevent it from occurring. Abt Associates is evaluating alternative approaches for helping families leave emergency shelter through the Rapid Rehousing Demonstration and the Family Options study. Another Abt study found that New York City’s Homebase Community Prevention program, a low-intensity homelessness prevention program in New York City, reduced entry into emergency shelters. The Urban Institute is evaluating a range of prevention approaches under the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing (HPRP) program and the Veterans Homelessness Prevention Demonstration. Together, these evaluations are adding greatly to our understanding of the costs and benefits of different approaches for promoting housing stability for households that are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.
What if a similar level of effort were put into research designed to improve our understanding of the housing challenges facing other renter households and evaluating options for addressing them? A series of coordinated studies – conducted simultaneously as part of a “research surge” to propel the field forward – could build the evidence needed to identify lower cost approaches for meeting the needs of different segments of the eligible renter population.
One component of the needed research agenda – an evaluation of models adopted by public housing agencies participating in the Moving to Work program – is already in the works. Through the Rent Reform demonstration being conducted by MDRC, prior and current evaluative work by Abt and the Urban Institute, and a forthcoming evaluation of Moving to Work described in HUD’s Research Roadmap, we will develop a better understanding of the impacts of different approaches to program streamlining adopted by public housing agencies with Moving to Work authority. To the extent these models are shown to reduce costs without compromising outcomes for residents, they could be scaled up to serve more families.
Here are three additional complementary ideas for research that could help us identify lower cost approaches for meeting the needs of very low-income renters:
I would be the first to admit that this research will take time, and in the meantime, many low-income renters will experience great hardships that could be avoided if the political will could be found to increase funding for existing rental assistance programs. At the same time, we must recognize the gravity of the nation’s fiscal challenges and the strong possibility that major funding increases for rental assistance will not materialize any time soon.
By investing in the research needed to develop alternative approaches to providing rental assistance, we will ensure that we can make the most effective use of existing and future subsidies to help as many households as possible achieve residential stability.
Jeffrey Lubell is Director of Housing Initiatives at Abt Associates. His new column, "In House," focuses on the nexus of housing policy and research. This column of "In House" is the third installment of a multipart series describing three potential strategies for addressing the nation’s unmet need for rental assistance. To read Lubell’s first column in the series, click here, and to read his second column, click here.
To receive future columns by email, subscribe to At Home, an e-newsletter published quarterly by Abt’s Housing & Communities Practice, or follow @JeffreyLubell on Twitter.
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research, evaluation and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in more than 40 countries.