Public Housing

Public housing consists of properties owned and operated by public housing agencies (PHAs), totaling about 1.2 million rental housing units (although an estimated 9,000 units are lost each year due to demolition or disposition[1]). About 40 percent of the residents of public housing are families with children, and roughly 60 percent are either elderly individuals and couples or adults with disabilities. Residents of public housing pay 30 percent of their income to the PHA as rent. In addition to owning and managing the housing, PHAs are responsible for managing waiting lists and calculating and collecting tenant rent payments.

Public housing is occupied primarily by households with extremely low incomes (below 30 percent of the area median). The federal government provides operating subsidies to cover the gap between operating costs and revenue from rents charged to residents and formula-allocated capital grants to repair and replace systems as the housing ages. These funding sources have not been sufficient to address  a backlog of capital needs. Recent program changes make it easier for PHAs to access private funding to preserve and improve public housing developments by converting operating subsidies and capital funding to rental assistance and permitting joint public-private ownership.

While public housing is not formally part of the homeless services system, it can be an important part of efforts to prevent and end homelessness. Many of the same cities that have large numbers of people experiencing homelessness also have relatively large public housing programs. Public housing can provide a stable and affordable source of housing for people who might otherwise become homeless. Public housing also can be a way out of homelessness. Some PHAs give preference on their waiting lists to people experiencing homelessness, helping them to avoid wait times that can stretch over years. PHAs may also adapt their screening procedures and policies to remove barriers for people experiencing homelessness. Partnerships between PHAs and community organizations serving homeless individuals and families can help to strengthen the role of public housing in addressing homelessness.

[1]HUD Awards $1.8 Billion to Improve, Preserve Nation’s Public Housing.” Press release No. 16-017. February 12, 2016, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.