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Charting the Impact of Federal Rental Assistance

Federal rental assistance reduces hardship and promotes children’s long-term success by helping over 5 million low-income households afford modest homes, our latest chart book shows.  Below are a few examples.

Rental assistance:

  • Helps people who need it most.  Federal rules ensure that rental assistance goes to people who need it most, without discouraging work.  Assisted households’ incomes average about $13,500, which is well below the 2016 poverty line of $20,160 for a family of three.  Three-quarters have extremely low incomes (that is, below the poverty line or 30 percent of the area median, whichever is higher).  More than half of assisted households include the elderly or people with disabilities; most of the rest are families with children. 


  • Reduces homelessness, housing instability, and poverty.  A large body of research finds that rental assistance sharply reduces homelessness, housing instability, and overcrowding.  For example, a rigorous study found that among families with children, vouchers reduced housing instability (living doubled up with family or friends or homeless) by four-fifths and reduced homelessness (living in a homeless shelter or on the street) by three-quarters.


  • Provides a platform for improved health and well-being.  Rental assistance — particularly vouchers, which enable families to rent a unit of their choice in the private market — can empower poor families to live in safer neighborhoods with less poverty and better schools.  A growing body of research finds that such neighborhoods can benefit low-income families in many ways.


    Children whose families use vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods when they’re young are far likelier, for example, to attend college and less likely to become single parents, according to recent groundbreaking research; they also earn significantly more as adults.  Their parents are also less likely to suffer from depression, psychological distress, extreme obesity, and diabetes than similar adults in families that didn’t receive vouchers. 

Even as rising numbers of low-income families struggle to pay rent and make ends meet, only one in four eligible households receives federal rental assistance due to funding limitations.  Helping many more low-income families to pay the rent should be a major goal of anti-poverty policy.