Rapid Re-Housing is a homelessness prevention program that provides financial assistance and services to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless. It attempts to help those who are experiencing homelessness to be quickly re-housed and stabilized.
Rapid Re-Housing services are administered by local programs and municipal housing authorities. Depending on the level of program funding, services and support can amount to first and last month rents, security deposits, rental subsidies and case management programs meant to assist people in staying housed.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which funds homelessness programs, is heavily promoting Rapid Re-Housing. HUD, in support of Rapid Re-Housing, has been de-funding emergency shelters – where most individuals and families go to seek assistance to prevent homelessness.
The rationale is that housing newly homeless individuals and families in apartments through rental assistance and case management services should eliminate the need for emergency shelters. Emergency shelters tend to be seen as “revolving doors” as many people experiencing homelessness cycle through them repeatedly.
Rapid Re-Housing, however, does not seem to be the panacea for family homelessness that its advocates promised. Studies conducted to determine the effectiveness of Rapid Re-Housing have shown a number of shortcomings:
- Rapid Re-Housing is an ineffective means towards increasing housing stability. The Family Options Study – the largest study of family homelessness ever conducted – shows that at least fifty percent of those in transitional housing and Rapid Re-Housing return to shelters instead of becoming economically independent.
- Short-term assistance equal short-term results. The program’s time limits on rental subsidies and lack of transformational interventions or even basic accountability measures, fail to prepare participants to overcome the issues that initially led to their homelessness. Many, if not most, families housed with temporary supports still do not have stable housing and continue to need shelters or other housing assistance once short-term resources expire.
- There are no quick or inexpensive ways to end family homelessness. 500 Massachusetts families receiving subsidies for Rapid Re-Housing were studied for more than 18 months. Of the nearly 500 families enrolled 4% found earned income to exit the need for subsidies. 77% of households are still subsidy dependent after 18 months with the remaining 19% likely to have had poor outcomes after exiting.
- Apartment leases are not always suitable for some families. According to the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) in 2010, some families have no options but to look for an apartment to rent with a short-term subsidy, even though they have no place to stay pending that housing search and are unable to afford the apartments after the subsidy ends – leading to additional evictions and worse rental histories than before they received a short- term subsidy.
- Families become homeless again when the temporary subsidies end. There is no basis to believe that families generally are in any better financial position after Rapid Re-Housing than when they were in shelter or at shelter’s door.
- Rapid Re-housing costs are not always less expensive than shelters. The Family Options study showed a shift of costs from homelessness providers to the broader society. Expenses like meals provided by shelters or soup kitchens are not included in the costs of Rapid Re-Housing, artificially decreasing the cost of the program.