On January 24, 2022, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published implementation guidance for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (FSHO) in the Federal Register (see the publication here). The legislation proposes extended housing support for youth leaving foster care by expanding eligibility for housing assistance through the Family Unification Program (FUP) and the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) initiative. FUP provides Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) for families and youth who are involved in public child welfare agencies and who lack adequate housing (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
HUD’s publication provides guidance on the implementation of the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) amendments. HUD is currently seeking public comments on certain provisions of FSHO, but they welcome public comment on any of the notice's provisions. The comment due date is March 25, 2022, and comments can be submitted via mail or electronic submission at http://www.regulations.gov/. More information is available here.
FUP is the only national housing program focused on preventing family separation due to homelessness and easing the transition to adulthood for aging-out youth. FUP began in 1990 for families, and, in 2000, youth were added as an eligible population. Unlike families, young people who participate in FUP receive vouchers that are time-limited to three years. Since the year 2000, more than 5,000 young people have received housing vouchers and their own, independent apartments upon leaving foster care (Alabama Department of Human Resources).
Nonetheless, major barriers exist for youth to access FUP assistance. First, not all public housing agencies (PHAs) administer FUP, and among those that do, more than half (53%) do not offer vouchers for youth. PHAs that serve youth allocate approximately one-third of their FUP vouchers for youth. This lack of access is mostly due to limited state and federal funding for youth supportive services (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2014). As a way to address these issues, in 2019, HUD established the federal Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) initiative. FYI aims to provide housing support specifically for foster and former foster youth by allocating annual federal funding. Youth could receive Tenant Protection Vouchers (TPVs) if their local PHAs don’t offer youth FUP vouchers. FYI has had several iterations with the goal of increasing housing access for foster and former foster youth (Congressional Research Service, 2021). Eligibility expansion includes ages of 18 to 24 and includes benefits if they have already left or are about to leave foster care. Youth can receive housing support for a maximum of 36 months (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
The proposed FSHO amendments provide extension of FUPY/FYI assistance for youth who participate in a Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. The FSS program provides services that help foster youth and families improve employment opportunities such as financial incentives, employment training, case management, and coaching (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2017). Youth could receive up to an additional 24 months of FUPY/ FYI benefits beyond the 36-month time limit as long as they follow the FSS program participation requirements. These requirements ask participants to be independent of cash assistance for 12 months and to be actively seeking for or sustaining employment (Office of Public Housing and Voucher Programs & Office of Public Housing Investments, 2016). If the PHAs do not offer FSS program, youth are considered unable to enroll and are entitled to receive an extension of up to two successive 12-month periods beyond the 36-month time limit of assistance if they engage in at least one of the education, workforce development, or employment activities for 9 months of the 12-month period preceding each extension. Additionally, FSHO also provides youth with extension of FUP/ FYI assistance they meet one of three statutory exceptions:
1. being responsible for the care of a dependent child under the age of six or an incapacitated person
2. regularly participating in a drug addiction or alcohol treatment and rehabilitation program, or
3. being incapable of complying with the requirement to participate in an FSS program or engaging in education, workforce development, or employment activities due to a documented medical condition (Oberdorfer, 2022).
In addition, FSHO requires PHAs to inform the youth of available supportive services that are either provided by or have a connection with the PHAs.
The FSHO implementation guidelines give some flexibility to the Public Housing Agencies. For instance, there is no established education or employment requirement for youth to be eligible for FUP/FYI extension but the PHAs could choose to establish these requirements. Additionally, PHAs may choose to apply their own definitions of “incapacitated person” based on what has been established under state or local law. Similarly, HUD is not defining the types of medical conditions that may meet this requirement but is providing PHAs with flexibility in applying this requirement (Federal Register, 2022).
Again, the public comment due date for the FSHO amendments is March 25, 2022, and comments can be submitted via mail or electronic submission at http://www.regulations.gov/. More information is available here.