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Can Direct Rental Assistance Offer a Better Way of Supporting Low-Income Families?

Jill Khadduri, Hannah Thomas, and Meryl Finkel

White Paper

May 7, 2024

Direct Rental Assistance (DRA) is an alternative approach to providing tenant-based rental housing assistance. The key difference between DRA and the current Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is that, through DRA, the subsidy payment would be made to the household directly rather than to the actual owner of the rental housing, the landlord. The household is then responsible for making the full rent payment to the landlord. Rigorous studies—including The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Family Options Study and its Moving to Opportunity Demonstration—have shown that stable housing based on access to an HCV subsidy can have lasting benefits for parents and their children. 

In this paper, the authors discuss concerns with the current HCV program and explain why DRA should be tested through rigorous research that would provide a valid contrast between DRA and the current HCV program. They present their hypotheses about how DRA might improve on the current HCV program as three theories of change to make explicit the outcomes that an evaluation of DRA (provided to families with children) would ideally measure: 

  1. Longer-term outcomes related to the well-being of the family, especially children; 
  2. Intermediate outcome of success in using the subsidy to obtain housing; and 
  3. Cost savings for PHAs or other program administrators, stemming from simpler and more streamlined program administration. 

The goal? To understand what the future of HUD rental assistance should look like.