Family Options Study

The Family Options Study is a random assignment experimental study designed to assess the effectiveness of different housing and services interventions for families experiencing homelessness. Participants were drawn from twelve study sites, with eligibility limited to families who had been staying in an emergency shelter for at least seven days. Between September 2010 and January 2012, nearly 2,300 families with more than 5,000 children were randomly assigned to one of four intervention groups.  The study then tracked the families and administered surveys to adults and collected information from observing and surveying children at about 20 months and 37 months after random assignment.  The interventions used programs already available in the community and provided priority access to those programs for families assigned to the treatment group for that intervention:

  • Project-based transitional housing with intensive services, in which families could stay for up to 24 months;
  • Community-based rapid rehousing, a temporary rent subsidy with case management;
  • A permanent rent subsidy, usually a Housing Choice Voucher, with no services attached; and
  • Usual care, a control group of families who could access whatever housing and services were available in the absence of priority access to an intervention.

The impacts of assignment to the study’s interventions were measured in five areas:

  1. Housing stability, with measures including (but not limited to) whether the family had spent at least one night homeless or doubled up in the past six months and the number of days homeless or doubled up in the past 6 months;
  2. Family preservation, including whether the family has had at least one child or spouse/partner separated and/or reunified in the past six months, and whether the family has had at least one foster care placement;
  3. Adult well-being, which measured outcomes related to physical and mental health, trauma symptoms, substance use, and intimate partner violence;
  4. Child well-being, which measured outcomes in the areas of education, health, and behavioral challenges and strengths; and
  5. Self-sufficiency, which looked at employment-related outcomes, income sources and amounts, education and training, food security, and economic hardship.

The largest and most significant impacts were seen for families who received priority access to a permanent housing subsidy. An interim report describes baseline characteristics of enrollees and their take-up of assigned interventions, and a short-term impacts report describes findings at 20 months. A long-term impacts report describing findings at three years after random assignment was published in October 2016.

Marybeth Shinn is co-principal investigator, Michelle Wood is the project director and Daniel Gubits is the director of analysis.