How Long Do People Stay in Assisted Housing Programs?

Low-income renters are requiring longer periods of rental assistance, and the trends show housing costs are a leading cause.

Households that enter a US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) assisted housing program to help extremely low-income renters can sometimes remain in it indefinitely. A new study examined HUD administrative data from 1995 through 2015, and helped identify relationships that exist between lengths of stay and various forces that might influence a household’s decision to leave or remain in assisted housing.

The typical household stays in assisted housing for about six years and varies by household type. The elderly stay in assisted housing for about nine years, while nonelderly families with children stay about four. Stays also vary by program type. Households receiving HCVs stay longest (6.6 years average, 4.8 years median), followed by public housing (5.9 years average, 3 years median) and Section 8 housing (5.8 years average, 3 years median).

For most assisted households, their length of stay is increasing. Tenants that left assisted housing in 2015 had stayed 6.0 years, up from 4.4 years for those that left assisted housing in 2000. This could be driven by the changing composition of the households in the programs (more elderly people reside in assisted housing) rather than changes in household choices. But between 1995 and 2015, all assisted housing groups (by age, disability, and children) grew. Nonelderly families with kids experienced the smallest change.

Market forces, including rising housing costs and inadequate incomes, likely play the largest role in the growth of assisted households. The findings suggest that as rents increase and outpace inflation and renter income, lengths of stay in assisted housing likely will increase. This is a nationwide phenomenon that is only heightened by long-term housing affordability constrains.

From 2000 to 2015, the United States saw median gross rent grow by 54 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census. This growth in rents outpaced inflation by 16 percentage points as the Consumer Price Index grew by 38 percent during the same time period according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The rapid growth in rents contributes to the loss of affordable housing in the nation because the incomes of renters are not keeping up with inflation, much less with the growth of rents.

According to Census data, from 2000 to 2015, median renter incomes grew by only 31 percent. This trend has continued for a very long time. Despite the rise and fall of prices of homes for owner-occupancy during the housing bubble, its collapse, and the recovery that followed, rents have been on a steady upward path, outpacing both inflation and renter income. As long as this pattern continues, it can be expected that the lengths of stay in assisted housing will continue to increase.

Where the rents on housing in the private marketplace are comparatively high or the availability of rental housing is comparatively low, households in assisted housing stay longer. Where alternative housing in the private market is expensive and scarce, households will stay longer in assisted housing.

The full study can be found here.

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