How Long Do Households Stay in Assisted Housing Programs?

How Long Do Households Stay in Assisted Housing Programs?
Kirk McClure
US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research
Publication Date:
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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, but can also leave it because of rising income, eviction, or changing household needs. This study sought to determine how long households stay in HUD rental assistance programs, including the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV), public housing, and Section 8 project-based housing programs. Author Kirk McClure examined household-level HUD administrative data from 1995 to 2015 and merged them with American Community Survey data, building upon previous research that shows how age, disability, children, race, income, education, and more can affect how long a household resides in assisted housing. He calculated the period of assistance for different types of households in different markets that face different administrative procedures, taking into account the variations for each factor. What factors influence length of stay, how has length of stay changed, and what do trends tell us about future stays?

Key findings

  • 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, length of stay is increasing. 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.