Housing for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Each year, about 25,000 young adults “age out” of the foster care system in the United States. At age 18 (or 21 in some states), they are discharged from the system and must immediately find and maintain housing. With little or no family assistance and means of self-sufficiency, the transition is often challenging, putting these youth at high risk of homelessness. There are no national estimates for homelessness among youth aging out of foster care, nor is there much information on the breadth or effectiveness of housing programs available to them. Mathematica collaborated with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago to learn more about public resources and policies that can help prevent or mitigate homelessness among this population. 

The project included a focus on how communities are utilizing Family Unification Program (FUP) vouchers to serve these youth. Tasks included a literature review and identification of innovative programs, a web-based survey of the public housing agencies and public child welfare agency partners that administer FUP vouchers to youth, site visits with four communities serving youth with FUP vouchers, and a one-day forum with experts and wide array of policy, research, and practitioner stakeholders.

Key findings include the following:

  • Stable housing is important yet elusive for youth aging out of foster care. Researchers estimate that 11 to 36 percent of youth who age out of foster care become homeless, and 25 to 50 percent experience unstable housing arrangements, such as “couch surfing”—temporarily staying at the homes of various friends and acquaintances—moving frequently within short periods of time, having trouble paying rent, and facing eviction. Unstable housing can contribute to compromised physical and mental health, which can further limit employment and the prospect of housing stability.
  • Policies and programs offer few housing opportunities for youth exiting foster care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) each provides a handful of key programs and policies to support youth exiting foster care. Communities must often combine the various federal funding streams with state, local, and private dollars, though, to develop suitable housing programs for transition-age youth at risk of homelessness.
  • Family Unification Program (FUP) has promise for supporting youth but is not widely applied to this population. Less than half of all public housing authorities (PHAs) administering FUP are serving youth, instead directing this form of rental assistance to families involved in the child welfare system. In 2012, youth accounted for about 14 percent of households assisted under this special-purpose voucher program. Just 2,912 FUP vouchers were in use by youth.