Policy Factsheet

Affordable Housing: Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Programs

Reasons for Policy

  • The inadequate supply of affordable housing for low-income families is among the most prevalent community health concerns related to family housing1
  • Lack of affordable housing can result in residential instability, overcrowding, or homelessness1
  • Nearly one million children in the U.S. experience homelessness each year2
  • Socioeconomic housing segregation leads to high poverty neighborhoods, which may have serious negative consequences for the well-being and life chances of children3
  • Tenant-based rental assistance programs give subsidized households expanded choice in where they live1
  • Because housing mobility policies target very low-income families, they may have the potential to reduce health disparities by improving the health of these disadvantaged groups4

Community Groups

  • Local Government
  • Local Housing Authorities
  • Local Rental Property Owners/landlords

Policy Components

  • Tenant-based rental assistance programs which subsidize the cost of housing secured by low-income households within the private rental market through the use of vouchers or direct cash subsidies
  • Housing search counseling
  • Community networking
  • Landlord outreach
  • Post-placement services (ex- employment and transportation services)

Desired Outcomes

  • Decreased socioeconomic residential housing segregation
  • Decreased exposure to crimes against person and property
  • Decreased neighborhood social disorder
  • Improved mental and physical health

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 1: Evidence-Based Policies Meeting Criteria for Effectiveness.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

The following summary of achievable results is based on a published review of the scientific evidence.5

  • 6%-22% reductions in experience of victimization within the neighborhood1
  • 3%-89% reductions in neighborhood social disorder, including public drinking and drug use, seeing individuals carrying weapons, and hearing gunfire.1

Tenant-based rental assistance programs may also have effects on youth behavioral problems and mental and physical health, with improvement ranging from 4% to 12%.1 However, the evidence for these outcomes is inefficient.

Community Examples

Links to Policy Examples

Be sure to check with your state, county, and municipal governments regarding potential existing laws that may impede any new policy development.


  1. Anderson, LM, St. Charles, J, Fullilove, MT, Scrimshaw, SC, Fielding, JE, Normand, J, & the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (2003). Providing affordable family housing and reducing residential segregation by income: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 24(3S), S47-67.  

  2. The Urban Institute. A new look at homelessness in America. 2000. Available at: www.urban.org/Template.cfm?Section=Home&Nav MenuID=141&template=/TaggedContent/ViewPublication.cfm&PublicationID=7476.  

  3. Ellen, IG & Turner, MA (2003). Do neighborhoods matter and why? : Choosing a better life? Evaluating the moving to opportunity social experiment. (pg 313-338). Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.  

  4. Acevedo-Garcia, D, Osypuk, TL, & Werbel, RE (2004). Does housing mobility policy improve health? Housing Policy Debate, 15(1), 49-98.  

  5. Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.