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Study: Coupling Vouchers With Supportive Services Helps Veterans Find Housing

A new study affirms the impressive success of the Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program in helping homeless veterans secure stable, affordable homes while recommending several improvements. 

Created in 2008, HUD-VASH combines federal housing vouchers with case management and clinical and other services that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides.  Since 2010, the number of vets experiencing homelessness has fallen by nearly half, mostly due to HUD-VASH.  To better understand why the program succeeds overall — but not in some cases — researchers collected administrative data and surveyed case managers and program participants, including some who never used the vouchers they received or who used them but later left the program for problems such as evictions.

Four in five participants used their voucher to lease a home, the study found.  Of that group, 87 percent remained housed under the program for at least one year and 60 percent for at least two years.  All participants had a prior history of homelessness, with many of them struggling with problems that can make it hard to find, lease, and remain in housing.  One-third reported mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance abuse, while some had criminal histories.  Given these challenges — plus the tight housing markets in at least two of the four study sites (Los Angeles and Palo Alto) — the program’s record in helping homeless vets move into stable housing is especially impressive.

The study identifies several reasons for this success, most of which stemmed from strong local partnerships among the VA, housing authorities, and other community organizations that work with vets, as well as the supportive services that the VA and state and local housing agencies provided.  For instance, the VA and housing agencies helped participants identify available units, in part by developing and maintaining relationships with landlords.  In some cases, the VA also provided transportation for vets to visit available units and helped cover their move-in costs, and housing agencies sometimes pre-inspected units (to ensure that they meet federal housing quality standards) to enable vets to move in more quickly. 

The study’s recommendations drive home the importance of these factors.  For instance, some vets who couldn’t rent housing with their voucher pointed to the challenge of paying move-in costs, and the researchers recommend that the VA make this aid more widely available.  Other recommendations highlight the severe challenges that some homeless vets face, which may require more intensive intervention.  For instance, the study recommends expanding “project-based housing” (where the voucher subsidy is attached to a particular unit in a development that provides intensive on-site supportive services) for vets with more complex health and mental health needs, a strategy that could improve their chances of leasing a unit and remaining stably housed.

Overall, the study shows that HUD-VASH is a public-private partnership that works, and that targeted federal resources can result in positive outcomes.