Urban Wire How Two-Generation Programs Can Advance Housing Stability
Anna Morgan, Elizabeth Champion, Eona Harrison
Display Date

hospital hallway with staff and man pushing a gurney

Housing is the foundation for daily life. It connects people to their communities and influences life outcomes, including physical and mental health, economic stability, and upward mobility. But not everyone can afford a home. The pandemic has made this clear by exacerbating housing instability for families with low incomes and creating an even greater need for affordable, stable housing. 

Families experiencing poverty often don’t have the resources to pay for a quality, stable home and must make trade-offs to prioritize their family’s education, health, and finances. And because children who grow up living in poverty are less likely to succeed economically as adults, cycles of poverty and housing instability can span generations.

Public services provide critical supports for families experiencing poverty, but they are often siloed. As a result, they not only can be costly and inefficient but also don’t always address a families’ needs in an integrated, holistic way.

Two-generation programs, which strive to end intergenerational poverty by supporting both parents and children living in the same household to improve life outcomes for the whole family, are one model of effective collaboration to increase housing stability. Based on Urban Institute research on multiple two-generation partnerships, we’ve identified four key elements to using two-generational programs to promote housing stability. 

What are two-generation partnerships, and how can they advance housing stability?

Two-generation partnerships recognize that poverty is cyclical and combining parent and child interventions can effectively disrupt this cycle. They provide wraparound services, such as quality early childcare, job training for adults, and postsecondary supports.

A central tenet of two-generation programs is “ensuring equity in policy,” or considering and addressing the effects of structural racism on families. Equity is an essential part of two-generation work because many institutions and policies are not aligned with the lived experiences of American families, such as children of color being more likely to experience poverty and housing instability because of systemic, racist policies and practices. 

Another key component of two-generation approaches is cross-silo partnership. Many social programs and policies don’t acknowledge how they’re related which limits their effectiveness.

The strong link between poverty and housing instability makes the model an especially good fit. It can help programs and organizations focused on housing stability be more centralized and coordinated so households can receive rapid, effective responses to changing household circumstances. Partnerships focused on housing stability often involve a variety of players but can include nonprofits, housing counseling agencies, workforce development organizations, eviction diversion legal and technical initiatives, and even school districts.

Keys to successful two-generation partnerships to improve housing stability 

Based on findings from several programs evaluated by the Urban Institute, here are four key elements for building successful two-generation program partnerships to improve housing stability for families experiencing poverty.

  • Build long-term partnerships. Successful partnerships cannot be an afterthought that arises amid a crisis or lasts only the duration of a grant period. One recent evaluation of two-generation place-based partnerships suggests that successful programs build partnerships with the intention of lasting decades and nurture them over time. Many unknowns, such as funding and capacity, can hinder long-term relationship building, but early intentions and planning for long-term partnerships can help ensure longevity and sustainability, thus creating long-term support networks for program participants.
  • Align funding streams and partnerships across organization types, including governmental and nongovernmental organizations. Breaking down siloes and aligning funding streams requires reimagining funding structures, allowing programs to tap into needed resources from a variety of different, flexible sources. This is a daunting task and can leave families and their communities feeling a lack of agency and ability to spark change.

    To address this, one evaluation suggests that social service agencies and housing stability partners, including public housing agencies, could dedicate resources toward building relationships before discrete programs and services.
  • Pair workforce development and education with housing stabilization efforts. Recent research highlights upward mobility’s dependence on housing stability. Across the country, innovative two-generation approaches to education and workforce development are advancing educational and career outcomes to support housing stabilityand economic mobility.

    One successful program was Opportunity Chicago. The Chicago Housing Authority partnered with City Colleges of Chicago so public housing residents could enroll at no cost in career bridge programs; certificate, associate’s degree, and general educational development programs; and English as a second language programs to prepare residents to enter the labor force. Programs like these provide supports for the whole family and suggest partnerships across workforce and education support housing stability.
  • Build strong relationships with participants before inviting partners. Program evaluations propose that building relationships with families before pulling in partners and defining specific goals and outcomes with a family is crucial. Listening to the families’ needs and building trust helps case managers better ensure long-term success and personalize solutions for a family working within a two-generation program.

Two-generation approaches underscore that the family is a unit and that children cannot succeed if the family unit is not safe and stable—and vice versa. Because housing stability is a key determinant of a family’s well-being and life outcomes, it is a natural fit for the model. Applying the lessons above will help service providers meet the holistic needs of families and set them up for long-term success.

The Urban Institute has the evidence to show what it will take to create a society where everyone has a fair shot at achieving their vision of success. 

Show your support for research and data that ignite change.  


Tune in and subscribe today.

The Urban Institute podcast, Evidence in Action, inspires changemakers to lead with evidence and act with equity. Cohosted by Urban President Sarah Rosen Wartell and Executive Vice President Kimberlyn Leary, every episode features in-depth discussions with experts and leaders on topics ranging from how to advance equity, to designing innovative solutions that achieve community impact, to what it means to practice evidence-based leadership.


Research Areas Housing
Tags Housing and the economy Housing stability
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
Related content