Cash Transfers and Rapid Re-housing


  • Abode Services - Fremont, California

Focus Area

  • Housing

“Housing is a foundation by which everyone can really achieve their other goals. Whether they're trying to achieve higher economic opportunity in terms of employment, education, mental health, or their own individual goals, it's hard to do that if you don't have a stable home.”

Vivian Wan, Chief Operating Officer, Abode Services

The Issue

For years, San Francisco residents have listed homelessness as a top priority the city needs to address, and the urgency of the crisis has grown in recent years as rents continue to be driven to high levels. With 70% of residents listing homelessness among the top three problems in the city in a recent poll, there is broad consensus among residents about the need for change. But the question remains: what kind of change?

One relatively new but popular intervention is rapid re-housing (RRH). Existing research (including current LEO studies) shows that RRH programs can provide effective, immediate relief to those experiencing housing crises. For people currently experiencing homelessness, RRH is a short-term to medium-term service combining both financial rental assistance and case management support. Over the course of the program, the amount of rental assistance gradually decreases until the household once again pays the entire rent. 

Right after exiting homelessness, individuals and families are especially vulnerable. Their focus is on covering expenses for the current month, and it’s difficult to build up resources for future months. If another unexpected expense or financial shock happens while they are in this precarious stage, it is easy to fall back into homelessness. In one study, 20 percent of those who used RRH services returned to emergency shelters within 7 to 18 months. 

Homelessness tends to occur in multiple episodes, and this trend has shown us that long-term housing stability requires more than a single exit from homelessness. As RRH recipients are placed in permanent housing and phased out of rental assistance, extra focus is needed on how to best help them maintain that housing. Especially in the Bay Area where rents are particularly expensive, providers are looking for homelessness interventions that set people up for long-term stability.


The Intervention

Abode Services is at the center of homelessness response efforts in San Francisco. They provide permanent supportive housing, short to medium-term rental assistance, emergency shelters, clinical health care services, and other housing stability services to roughly 10,000 households in six counties across the Bay Area every year. 

They have been offering RRH programs for the past 13 years, but have seen the effectiveness of the program decrease over time. Right now, 72% of households exit Abode’s RRH programs into stable housing. While this rate is similar to programs across the country, Abode is looking for ways to improve the current model. They convened a focus group with former RRH participants, and found that many voiced a need for additional financial support in the months after exiting homelessness. 

Hearing these concerns, Abode Services decided to try providing regular cash transfers for clients exiting their rapid re-housing programs. For those receiving the new intervention, when they exit the RRH program they will be given a prepaid debit card in their name reloaded with their financial assistance payment each month for 12 months. The payments are unconditional with no fees.

Abode’s hope is that the additional support will make sure people being housed have the resources to stay housed, improving their long-term housing stability and other outcomes. The new cash transfer program is at the intersection of two critical fields: homelessness services and basic income programs. From Abode’s perspective, “If one year of additional income helps more people exit homelessness for good, that is a win for them and for us, as we can focus on serving other families.”


Research Question

How do unconditional monthly payments to people exiting rapid rehousing impact their future housing stability, health, benefit utilization, interactions with the criminal justice system, earnings, and employment status?

Intended Outcomes

Individuals who receive monthly payments will have:

  • Greater housing stability over following years.
  • Improved health outcomes and interactions with healthcare.
  • Decreased interactions with the criminal justice system.
  • Higher earnings and decreased instances of unemployment.

Research Study Design

LEO is excited to work with Abode to study the impact of these payments. In partnership with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, Abode Service and LEO are launching a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to test the effect of unconditional cash transfers on the housing stability, earnings, healthcare interactions, arrests, and employment status of those exiting rapid rehousing programs. All families and individuals transitioning out of Abode’s rapid re-housing program will be eligible to participate in the study. For the first four months the treatment group will receive monthly payments of $1,650 ($2,000 for families), and for the final eight months the treatment group will receive monthly payments of $800 ($1,000 for families). Meanwhile, the control group will receive monthly payments of $50. 

Throughout the study, the LEO research team will track outcomes for both the treatment and control group and then use differences in those outcomes to estimate the effect of the cash transfers. The key outcomes of focus include homelessness, health, housing stability, and financial well-being. If this intervention increases long-term housing stability, it could reshape how nonprofit organizations and local funders design housing and service programs. The cash transfers have the potential to be replicated and scaled to communities all across the country.


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