Access to Safe and Affordable Housing

Housing is essential for everything, from our physical and mental health to job stability and financial security, and for those who are parenting, it is critical for their children’s well-being and development. Young people who have stable housing are able to apply for and maintain jobs, receive safety net support, and pursue their education, training, and life goals. Housing that is safe from physical hazards, and in neighborhoods free from pollution, with access to transportation, grocery stores, and green spaces, supports physical health. Stable housing also supports young people’s mental health; those who have stable housing are less likely to experience psychological distress, depression, and anxiety.

A home provides a stable and secure base, a place where a young person can feel safe and comfortable, and connected to community. Without it, young people cannot pursue their goals and thrive. But in large parts of the country housing is unaffordable for most, and junk fees, and exploitative rents and rental agreements hit young people who are just starting out especially hard.

The requirement that renters pay first and last month’s rent and security deposits up front is one of the biggest barriers low-income renters face when moving into a new apartment. The challenge of coming up with hundreds or thousands of dollars prevents many from accessing housing, especially young people whose budgets are often stretched thin.

As a CARES Ambassador in Los Angeles explains, “the application process makes housing so unattainable. Three times the rent! While I understand why landlords would want that, as it provides security for both landlords and tenants, at the same time, if I make only two times [the rent], and I want to rent and live off of that, I should be able to! I’d rather have half my monthly income go to rent and live off the other half than be homeless, solely because my monthly income isn’t three times the rent.”

Landlords are more likely to exploit people with low incomes, especially people of color, charging them more than the market rate for substandard housing. Research has shown that renters in high-poverty neighborhoods face levels of exploitation that are more than twice that of renters in neighborhoods with lower levels of poverty, and those in majority-Black neighborhoods also experience higher levels of housing exploitation compared to minority-Black neighborhoods. Landlords are also pocketing more profit in poor neighborhoods than in wealthier ones; on average, they see a median profit of $298 per month in these neighborhoods compared with $225 in middle-class neighborhoods and $250 in affluent ones.

Other obstacles such as lack of affordable housing, community disinvestment, historic redlining, and complicated, siloed, and insufficient housing assistance contribute to high rates of housing instability and homelessness for young adults. Young people who are eligible for federal housing subsidies face challenges including difficulty with application paperwork, and, if they receive a housing voucher, discrimination when trying to use their voucher based on their source of income, and difficulty finding and leasing a suitable rental unit.

Youth aging out of foster care must find safe and stable housing, often with little or no support, little or no preparation, and no rental history. As is true for everyone, the lack of affordable housing and systemic racism further limit their ability to secure housing in the open market. Between 11 and 37 percent of youth who age out of foster care have experienced homelessness, and even more, between 25 to 50 percent of young adults exiting foster care couch surf, double up, move frequently within a short period of time, have trouble paying rent, and face eviction.

There are a variety of federal programs that provide housing support to young people transitioning out of foster care, including the Family Unification Program (FUP) and the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) Initiative, which provide housing vouchers to youth who will soon leave foster care or who have already aged out, but they are underutilized and are not funded at levels that would allow them to serve all eligible youth. Vouchers also present other challenges, as many people have difficulty finding landlords who will accept vouchers, and too often the value of housing vouchers are too low, making it impossible to find safe and healthy housing in a desirable neighborhood.

Barriers to affordable housing mean that young people have difficulty gaining a stable footing as they navigate employment and educational opportunities or become parents themselves. With housing costs and the general cost of living skyrocketing, there should be support for young people to ensure they have options for safe, stable, and affordable places to live.

To ensure housing is accessible and affordable for everyone, and specifically for young people, we must:

  • PRESERVE AND EXPAND THE SUPPLY OF HEALTHY, PERMANENT, AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING that will withstand the forces of gentrification and displacement to ensure better outcomes for young people, families with low incomes, and families of color. This can be done by both preserving the subsidized housing in gentrifying neighborhoods and creating more affordable and healthy low-income homes in these neighborhoods through new construction and acquisition.
  • HELP PEOPLE COVER THE COSTS OF HEALTHY HOUSING, IN SAFE AND THRIVING NEIGHBORHOODS by guaranteeing housing vouchers for those with low incomes. These vouchers should (1) be inclusive of all costs that renters incur, and (2) have higher values overall so that people can find suitable housing. It is also essential that vouchers allow people to secure rental housing free from physical hazards, in neighborhoods that are safe and offer the amenities young people need (e.g., access to public transportation, grocery stores and other conveniences, walkable, etc.). Also, in states where source of income is not a protected class, we must pass legislation to ensure usability of Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs), and, in states where it is a protected class, support enforcement of source of income protections.
  • REMOVE THOSE BARRIERS THAT EXCLUDE YOUNG PEOPLE FROM ACCESSING HOUSING AND THOSE THAT EXPLOIT YOUNG PEOPLE WITH LOWER INCOMES by (1) eliminating burdensome financial costs associated with renting, including application fees, credit checks, and prohibitively high security deposits, (2) enforcing health and safety standards in affordable housing, and (3) going after predatory landlords and lenders with a history of harassing tenants, managing housing that is unsafe or in inadequate condition, or redlining our communities.

Read the full policy agenda, A Policy Agenda for a Nation that CARES for Young Adults, here.