BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Many young people leaving foster care after they reach adulthood become homeless soon after losing the child welfare system’s support and, among those who do, more than half experience multiple episodes of homelessness. A new House bill — the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act — would help address this tragic policy failure by making Housing Choice Vouchers available to more at-risk foster youth to help them rent housing at an affordable cost during these vulnerable transition years.
Roughly 20,000 people “age out” of foster care every year. Many enter adulthood with severe disadvantages such as histories of trauma, poor education and job skills, few financial resources, or little or no family support. Up to one-third of them experience homelessness in the years just after their emancipation, studies show. Homelessness makes it extremely hard for young adults to succeed in school or work and increases their risk of substance use, depression, assault, and suicide.
Young adults leaving foster care are eligible for Housing Choice Vouchers, but applicants wait years for assistance; only 1 in 4 eligible households receive any federal rental assistance due to limited funding. The President and Congress have authorized the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to make a special pool of vouchers (Family Unification Program or FUP vouchers) available to selected state and local housing agencies that partner with child welfare agencies to help at-risk youth and families. But only some 230 agencies out of more than 2,200 nationwide are authorized to administer them.
The House bill, sponsored by Reps. Madeleine Dean, Steve Stivers, Michael Turner, and Karen Bass, would authorize HUD to make FUP vouchers available through every agency that administers vouchers, and to provide them to all at-risk foster youth who need them (subject to the availability of funding that policymakers provide through the annual appropriations process). It would replace the unnecessarily cumbersome competitive process for awarding FUP grants with a more streamlined process that enables an agency to receive a voucher from HUD when a child welfare agency requests one on behalf of a young person who’s at risk. This “on-demand” process would better meet the needs of at-risk foster youth, particularly in communities where FUP vouchers aren’t now available.
The bill also encourages housing agencies and child welfare agencies to connect youth to supports that can help them become independent, and it would let youth use their vouchers for up to 60 months (the current limit is 36) if they’re participating in educational, training, or work-related activities, which would help them complete these programs.
The bill’s success would depend in part on whether policymakers provide the requisite funding for FUP vouchers, but there’s good news on that front as well. The House-approved 2020 HUD funding includes $40 million for about 4,000 new FUP vouchers, including $20 million targeted on foster youth. This funding, combined with the bill’s voucher program changes, would provide stability to about 2,000 youth.