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Spotlight On: Homelessness and Housing Instability in New York City

Homelessness and Housing Instability in New York City

New York City faces a dynamic homelessness crisis, a challenging housing market, and a swelling migrant population that is exacerbating these existing conditions. Elected officials, government staff, and homeless service providers in New York City face numerous challenges as they seek to establish and expand housing stability. Many New Yorkers live in deep poverty and experience severe housing insecurity due to high rent burdens or involuntary doubling up. The recent influx of immigrants to the city is complicating the city’s effort to create space in emergency shelters for individuals and families who may have complex mental and physical health needs. Identifying affordable, safe housing units for people experiencing housing instability or exiting homelessness continues to be a challenge, especially with an extremely limited number of rental subsidies that enable households to participate in the private rental market.

Abt staff partner with our clients in New York City and across the country to learn more about their communities and help answer the question “what could work?” to help people exit homelessness, access, and retain permanent housing.

How can Abt help?

Abt staff recognize that housing, neighborhood, and built environments are key domains among the social determinants of health. Abt staff possess extensive knowledge of homeless service systems and affordable housing programs in cities across the U.S. From our ongoing research, evaluation, and technical assistance work in Los Angeles, we understand the challenges faced by large cities with both extreme wealth and extreme poverty. From our research projects based in Boston and our technical assistance work in Washington, D.C., we understand the complexities of enforcing a right to shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

Programmatically, our staff have deep expertise in homeless assistance programs, public housing and Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) operations and resident services, fair housing, and community development through dozens of research and technical assistance projects each year. These staff collaborate with other Abt colleagues who possess workforce, healthcare, education and criminal justice expertise. Many of our team members bring substantial knowledge of HUD programs gained through their prior work as practitioners administering these programs.



For more than 50 years, Abt has conducted evaluations and supported implementation of housing and homelessness programs for federal and local government clients as well as nonprofit organizations. We are leaders in:

  • Program evaluation, including process studies, literature reviews, environmental scans, interviews, community-based participatory research and ethnography
  • Data capture and analytics, including survey design, web-based surveys, analysis of existing housing and homelessness datasets, randomized control trials, and quasi-experimental design
  • Centering equity in our approach to research and implementation and collaborating with program staff, community representatives, and people with lived and frontline expertise with homelessness

Abt’s research is informed by our technical assistance work with Continuums of Care (CoCs), homeless service providers, public housing authorities, and local governments across the country. For nearly two decades, communities have relied on Abt’s extensive experience and capabilities to help design and implement homelessness, housing, and community development strategies. Abt’s technical assistance provides communities with cross-cutting guidance and training, facilitates community-wide planning processes, and builds local capacity to address complex problems effectively.


technical assistance

Relevant Experience

Abt has experience partnering with agencies and funders located in the greater New York City area, including: the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity); the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD); Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC, the City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH); NYU Furman Center; JP Morgan Chase; and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Housing and Homelessness Technical Assistance
Client: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Abt has delivered technical assistance (TA) around assisted housing and homeless assistance programs for more than 15 years. Our approach to TA is grounded in equity, responsive and respectful, relevant and results oriented. Recent TA engagement examples include:

In Los Angeles, Abt provides ongoing TA to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). Through relationship-building and our data-driven approach, Abt helped LAHSA increase its utilization of permanent supportive housing and develop stronger collaboration and working relationships between city and county agencies. Abt also helped initiate the use of electronic applications and a new document certification process. We’re also working with LAHSA to overcome barriers to the full utilization of Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs), using HUD Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data to identify points in the process and the type of households attempting to use vouchers that should be the focus of additional support efforts.

In communities across the U.S., Abt is providing TA to help participating jurisdictions decrease homelessness and increase housing stability through the more-effective utilization of HOME-ARP funds. Abt develops and delivers webinars, online tools, group learning, and direct TA on HOME-ARP planning activities, including consultation, needs assessment & gaps analysis, prioritization of activities, establishment of preferences or limitations, and public participation.

conrad hilton

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Chronic Homelessness Initiative
Client: The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

Since September 2011, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has worked to garner public support for—and make large-scale public investments in— solutions to end chronic homelessness in Los Angeles County. As the Foundation’s Measurement, Evaluation, and Learning partner for the Chronic Homelessness Initiative from 2011-2021, Abt assessed and examined the Foundation’s and community’s progress in meeting their goals. Abt also considered several specific related topics, including the successful use of housing vouchers by people experiencing homelessness in the region and the development and implementation of a public-private partnership to create a flexible housing subsidy pool program for people experiencing homelessness.

rapid re-housing

Understanding Rapid Re-housing
Client: The Office of Policy, Development, & Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Abt completed the Understanding Rapid Re-housing Study, a comprehensive study of the widespread implementation of the rapid re-housing program model across the U.S. In two study sites—one with a high-cost, low-vacancy housing market—the study team conducted ethnographic research with 16 participants over a 15-month period from late 2018 to early 2020. This data collection—including multiple in-depth interviews, home observations, and ongoing, unstructured communication by phone and text— provided information their experiences using and transitioning from short-term tenant-based rental assistance. The study team also conducted a web survey of all CoCs and RRH programs across the country.

mayors guaranteed income

Mayors for a Guaranteed Income Pilots
Client: Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (MGI)

Abt is evaluating guaranteed income (GI) programs in seven cities that provide recurring cash payments to different target populations. After randomly assigning applicants to either receive GI or be in the control group, Abt is using an integrated mixed method design that combines qualitative interview data and quantitative survey data to understand how GI impacts recipients’ lives, including their financial well-being, psychological distress, physical functioning, and housing stability.

qualitative poverty study

Qualitative Poverty Study
Client: New York City Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity

Using community-based participatory research and ethnographic approaches, Abt conducted a qualitative study in 2018 to complement the poverty measure and answer the question: How are New Yorkers experiencing living in or near poverty, and what are the ways that poverty affects their lives? The study’s final report presents compelling portraits of interlocking, compounding challenges that create barriers to exiting poverty. Central among these are housing pressures: despite a spectrum of housing supports, a majority of New Yorkers are rent-burdened. Study participants described the myriad ways they navigated the local housing market, their experiences seeking and using housing assistance, and the threats to their housing stability that they faced. Participants described a resulting cycle of chronic poor health, financial burden, and mental health issues.


Evaluation of NYCWell Initiative
Client: The New York City Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity), NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), and Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC

In 2020, Abt conducted a mixed-method evaluation of NYCWell, New York City’s free and confidential mental health helpline. The evaluation included surveys with helpline users at two points in time, in-depth interviews with participants, and the program’s administrative data. The evaluation included information from primary users—people requesting assistance on their own behalf—and intermediary users (people calling on behalf of others or who were perceived to need assistance). The evaluation found that a diverse population used NYCWell and overall had positive experiences, filling a services gap for some individuals who may have otherwise deferred mental health care.


Contact Us

Currently, there 115 Abt staff working on projects related to housing, homelessness, and asset building, with more than 30 colleagues working in the greater New York City region.

Lauren Dunton

Lauren Dunton

Principal Associate
Elizabeth Giardino

Elizabeth Giardino

Principal Associate, Housing & Asset Building
Katie Kitchin

Katie Kitchin

State and Local Director, Housing & Asset Building

Learn more about our Housing, Communities & Asset Building

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