Strategy overview

  • Keeping residents stably housed: Housing stability and homelessness prevention programs are implemented to help those at risk of displacement or homelessness stay in their current homes. Such approaches can include emergency short term rental assistance, legal support to tenants at risk of eviction, rapid rehousing initiatives, and "just cause" eviction legislation.

  • Providing short-term financial assistance: One approach to eviction prevention is to provide emergency rental assistance — cash payments to cover rent, late fees, and possible legal costs. Financial assistance is often the foundation of a broader eviction prevention strategy that may also include financial counseling and legal support. These types of eviction prevention programs are typically delivered by a nonprofit and funded by both the local jurisdiction and donors.

  • Connecting residents to free legal counsel: An increasingly prominent approach to improving housing stability is connecting low-income renters at risk of eviction to free legal counsel. Lawyers then work with at-risk residents during eviction proceedings, which typically take place in civil court. Access to legal counsel ensures residents are not illegitimately evicted and can help them secure more favorable terms of continuing tenancy. Legal counsel may also work with at-risk renters to address other issues, like housing discrimination and health code violations.

  • Rapidly rehousing residents: Many jurisdictions have found success using rapid rehousing models, in which individuals and families are engaged immediately after they are displaced or become homeless. Generally, residents are connected to private-market housing and are provided with short-term rental assistance and financial support for moving costs. Connections are then provided to a range of community services, like job search assistance, legal aid, or child care.

  • Banning evictions without cause: In many jurisdictions, the status quo allows landlords to evict tenants without any reason. Some jurisdictions have responded to this by implementing regulations that limit the circumstances upon which landlords can evict tenants. These are often known as “just cause” or “good cause” eviction policies. In cities and counties with these policies, in order to be evicted, tenants must have failed to pay rent for a set period of time, damaged housing intentionally, or failed to comply with other terms of the lease. Once landlords are able to prove “just cause,” they must follow set legal procedures in order to evict.

While research syntheses of multiple common practices for preventing homelessness and increasing housing stability have demonstrated some strong results, further research is needed to confirm effects.

  • A 2019 research synthesis found that legal support for tenants in eviction proceedings can be associated with a reduction in evictions.

  • A 2019 research synthesis found that rapid re-housing initiatives can reduce homelessness duration, particularly for families who are newly homeless, and increase access to social services.

  • A 2020 research synthesis found that programs providing debt advice to tenants with unpaid rent can be associated with a reduction in debt and evictions.

Before making investments in housing stability and displacement prevention, city and county leaders should ensure this strategy addresses local needs.

The Urban Institute has developed an indicator framework to help local leaders assess conditions related to upward mobility, identify barriers, and guide investments to address these challenges. This indicator framework can serve as a starting point for self-assessment, not as a comprehensive evaluation, and should be complemented by other forms of local knowledge.

The Urban Institute's Upward Mobility Framework identifies a set of key local conditions that shape communities’ ability to advance upward mobility and racial equity. Local leaders can use the Upward Mobility Framework to better understand the factors that improve upward mobility and prioritize areas of focus. Data reports for cities and counties can be created here.

Several indicators in the Upward Mobility Framework may be improved with investments in housing stability and displacement prevention programs. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in this strategy could help, examine the following:

  • Housing affordability: Ratio of affordable and available housing units to households with low, very low, and extremely low income levels. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Local Income Bands.
  • Housing stability: Number and share of public-school children who are ever homeless during the school year. These data are collected by local public school districts.
  • Economic inclusion: Share of people experiencing poverty who live in high-poverty neighborhoods. These data are available in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
  • Racial diversity: Index of people’s exposure to neighbors of different races and ethnicities. These data are available through the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
  • Social capital: Number of membership associations per 10,000 people and the ratio of residents’ Facebook friends with higher socioeconomic status to their Facebook friends with lower socioeconomic status. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns and Opportunity Insights’ Social Capital Atlas, respectively.
  • Take an intra-agency approach: Homelessness prevention initiatives tend to gain momentum when they are championed by a local government leader — such as the head of a family services agency or a high-ranking elected official. A vocal champion can then bring key agencies together to develop an action plan, which can require cross-agency and/or cross-government (i.e. a city tenant’s rights office and a state or county court) collaboration.

  • Identify patterns of eviction causes: Partnerships across government agencies and with local research institutions can provide increased data sharing and analysis capacity. That expanded capacity should focus on identifying trends and patterns of factors leading to homelessness. Insights gained from this process can include identifying landlords with a history of illegal or wrongful evictions, neighborhoods in particular need of services, and/or the need for changes in program eligibility rules.

  • Invest in service providers with deep community roots: A common challenge in eviction prevention is ensuring eligible residents are both aware of the program and willing to accept services. Especially for legal services, which represent the bulk of a jurisdiction’s public investment, prioritize partnerships with community-based organizations with whom members of the target population are likely familiar. The highest impact partners often already have a significant footprint and a demonstrated history of raising public awareness and engagement.

  • Emphasize cost savings: Many housing stability programs can be framed as long-term cost-reduction strategies. Highlighting the fact that these services tend to reduce demand for expensive public services, like beds in homeless shelters, supports for individuals experiencing homelessness, and emergency medical care, can be used to cultivate public support and persuade potential funders.

  • Streamline application processes: Complex or time-intensive application processes can become barriers to households attempting to access housing assistance programs. By streamlining application processes, such as by setting more flexible eligibility criteria or documentation requirements, agencies can increase the number of households able to access services. For example, an evaluation of an emergency rental assistance program in Kentucky found that simplified income verification requirements significantly increased application approval rates.

Evidence-based examples

Legal structure operated by a nonprofit organization that allows communities to control land and development projects
Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods
Professional advisers work with tenants to address debt, create repayment plans, and more
Stable and healthy families
The Family Self-Sufficiency program (FSS) offers case management, a range of support services, and financial incentives to eligible housing-assisted families.
Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods
Providing legal representation for low-income tenants during the eviction process
Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods
Helping individuals or families experiencing homeless quickly move into permanent housing
Stable and healthy families