In front of an audience of more than 100, a diverse group of experts in housing, child and family welfare, and public health and policy gathered to discuss the ways that stable housing can contribute to family well-being. The event focused on of recent findings from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development-funded (HUD) Family Options Study, which examined the best ways to help families experiencing homelessness.
The Family Options Study Findings
Abt Senior Fellow and vice president Dr. Stephen Bell opened the forum by highlighting key findings from the Family Options Study. The study, which was led by Abt Associates for HUD, found that offering permanent housing subsidies, or vouchers, to families experiencing homelessness had substantial positive impacts relative to other methods of support, reducing the percent of families returning to homelessness by more than half. Housing vouchers also had positive impacts on other measures of family well-being including family preservation, adult well-being and child well-being.
As Bell explained, the study examined four interventions designed to reduce homelessness—vouchers, community-based rapid re-housing, project-based transitional housing, and usual care. After roughly 20 months, the study found that permanent vouchers led to the best outcomes by far. Additionally, the study found that these vouchers had radiating effects in other areas of family well-being, including reductions school moves and absences among children, and in intimate partner violence and alcohol dependency among adults. However, the study also found that only about a third of these highly vulnerable families were working and that heads of families who were offered permanent housing subsidies were somewhat less likely to work than other families.
How Housing Matters to Children and Families
Lubell was joined by Dr. Aletha C. Huston, the Pricilla Pond Flawn Regents Professor of Child Development Emerita at the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Sandra Newman, Professor of Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins to discuss the broad-reaching impacts of stable housing on children and families. Dr. Ron Haskins, Senior Fellow and Co-Director, the Brookings Center on Children and Families and Budgeting for National Priorities Project, moderated the panel.
Dr. Haskins opened the panel discussion by commenting on the study’s reliability, saying, “Random assignment is to die for. It’s the only truly reliable source of information from social sciences. So the results from this study are highly reliable.”
The panelists then focused on the importance of stability in early childhood, with Dr. Huston noting that “an investment in the well-being of children helps avoid chaos,” and detailing some of the key radiating benefits for children identified by the study that were the result of permanent housing subsidies—improvements in school attendance, childcare attendance, and food insecurity.
Dr. Newman took a more cautious approach, saying that while “the Family Options Study is an extremely strong study designed to answer a specific question,” the results are from 20 months of a 36-month study, and that she’s interested in what the end results may be.
Implications for Housing and Beyond
Moderated by Abt Senior Fellow and principal associate Dr. Jill Khadduri, the second panel focused on policy implications behind the Family Options Study, and beyond homelessness. Panelists included Jennifer Cannistra, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of the Assistance Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. Katherine O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at HUD; and, Kathy Stack, formerly with the White House Office of Management and Budget and currently Vice President of Evidence-Based Innovation at The Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
“Providing stable, affordable permanent housing to families who are experiencing homelessness has a profound effect on housing stability, and is our best policy option,” Dr. O’Regan said. O’Regan also highlighted the role vouchers play in helping to address childhood poverty in America, and noted the current administration’s budget request for 37,000 more vouchers.
Jennifer Cannistra echoed O’Regan’s comments, and stated that the nation’s poverty rate would be almost double without housing assistance.
Abt Associates President and CEO Kathleen Flanagan closed the forum by recognizing the many elements in housing stability and family well-being, and challenged the audience to help “break down some of the barriers to the gold standard of randomized control trials…and collect a body of evidence that will move us in the right direction for policy.”
View the Family Options Study Bold Thinkers Series Forum.