Research Report An Examination of the Family Unification Program for Youth
Subtitle
Understanding Its Use and Areas for Improvement
Mike Pergamit, Sarah Prendergast, Amelia Coffey, Shannon Gedo, Lauren Morgan, Zackaria Ali
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Introduction

Young people commonly experience changes in housing as they transition to adulthood. Young people aging out of foster care, however, may not have the support of family members or other adults to help them navigate the challenges inherent in securing housing. As a result, many young people aging out of foster care experience homelessness. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers the Family Unification Program (FUP), which provides Housing Choice Vouchers to eligible families who are involved with the child welfare system. FUP also provides vouchers to eligible young people who have aged out of foster care or will do so in the near future.

This report focuses on FUP for Youth (FUPY) and describes results from a mixed-methods study of 2018 FUP voucher awardees. As a national program, FUPY offers an opportunity to prevent homelessness for young people formerly in foster care and help them transition to independent living. The study focused on understanding how FUP partnerships design their local program to serve young people. Program elements studied included the nature of the FUP partnerships; the method of identifying and referring eligible young people; the voucher issuance process; support for young people’s housing search, leasing, and moving in; and other services offered to help young people achieve their personal goals. Finally, we consider the extent to which FUPY is ready for a rigorous impact evaluation.

Purpose

The FUPY program has never gone through a rigorous impact evaluation to determine if it is successful at reducing homelessness among young people formerly in foster care and launching them on a successful transition to adulthood. To consider what is needed for a future evaluation, this study builds on prior research to document FUPY implementation practices among 2018 FUP awardees. We provide a point-in-time description of FUP awardees’ experiences with issuing FUP vouchers and providing services to young people, noting the services that are required by HUD. We complement survey findings with qualitative data collected during site visits with a group of FUP awardees. Our survey and site visits included the three partners involved in administering FUP, the public housing agency (PHA), a public child welfare agency (PCWA), and a local Continuum of Care (CoC) agency; however, there may be other organizations involved in administering the program that our survey and site visits did not capture.

Key Findings and Highlights

Evaluation Readiness

The program’s theory of change needs further refinement, but the study’s results serve as a guide toward developing a theory of change that can be used to strengthen the program and to better position the program for future evaluations.

Partnership Structure

Among the six awardees that participated in our site visits, partnership structures varied. In some cases, the CoC did not play a major role in the implementation of FUPY, while in other partnerships it took on a larger role. Across all sites, most PCWAs identified eligible young people through child welfare caseworkers and independent living workers; fewer did so through PHAs or CoCs. About half of the PCWAs and CoCs in our survey said they refer all potentially eligible young people for FUP.

Voucher Allocation

Though FUP vouchers have historically been used for families, our survey findings demonstrated that the majority of PHAs were also serving young people with 2018 vouchers. Most PHAs and PCWAs, however, did not set aside a specific number or proportion of their vouchers for young people.

Housing Application and Search

Through site visits, we heard that the application process can sometimes create barriers for young people After vouchers are provided, young people begin the housing search and selection process. Though some partnerships said they encouraged young people to locate housing in low-poverty neighborhoods, site visits suggested this can be challenging depending on the housing market and amount of housing available to young people. We found that housing search and selection services provided to young people receiving FUP vouchers are generally provided to other young people aging out of foster care as well.

Tenancy Approval, Lease Signing, and Move-In

Once young people have found a housing unit, they seek approval from the PHA, sign a lease, and move in. Most PCWAs offer financial assistance as young people move in, such as help paying for security deposits, utility deposits, and furniture or housewares.

Supportive Services Offered during Voucher Term

Young people may be offered pre- or post-move counseling to help them understand their rights and responsibilities, budget for rent, work with landlords, and select housing in low-poverty neighborhoods. Our survey found that partners provide pre-move counseling. Nearly all PCWAs provide or contract with an agency to provide supportive services to young people. However, the extent to which young people receive these services varies and may rely on the young person reaching out to the provider.

Research Areas Children and youth Child welfare Housing
Tags Federal housing programs and policies Foster care Homelessness Housing vouchers and mobility Housing stability
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
Research Methods Data collection Data analysis Qualitative data analysis