Affordable housing is a national and statewide challenge that many are working to address, including Foster Success, Prosperity Indiana, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition and the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).
April is National Fair Housing Month, and I’m happy to report we are making some progress, but not nearly as much as needed.
I recently visited Washington D.C. and Capitol Hill as part of the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Housing Policy Forum where I shared information from a report Foster Success commissioned last year to look at the unique housing-related challenges of teens and young adults transitioning out of foster care with members of the Indiana Congressional delegation and their staff.
Through the Opportunity Starts at Home (OSAH) campaign, advocates are working for expanded state and federal housing resources, and to correct long-standing structural and racial inequities to ensure that people with the lowest incomes can afford good homes.
Affordable housing is an issue that particularly impacts young people in Indiana transitioning out of foster care, as 65% of youth leaving foster care need immediate housing upon discharge. A lack of affordable housing makes every other area of these young adults’ lives more challenging. On average, one out of four youth in foster care will become homeless within four years of aging out of the foster care system.
Research shows there is a gap of 135,033 affordable housing units for extremely low-income renters in Indiana. That means there are not enough affordable housing units in the state for those who need them. Young people exiting foster care have an even more difficult time securing what little housing there is because they often lack a co-signer or credit history.
But they don’t have to be at a disadvantage. Federal, state, and local governments can – and should – implement policies to help these young people obtain safe, secure housing.
More Public Housing Authorities must offer Family Unification Program (FUP) and Foster Youth Initiative (FYI) vouchers, and they must allow individuals to use the vouchers as they were designed to – to prevent homelessness, not as a response to homelessness.
We also must encourage landlords to accept the vouchers. Indiana needs to provide incentives so landlords welcome tenants who come to them with vouchers and continue to accept them once the tenants move into the rental property.
We need to ensure that these young people have at least 12 months of stable housing secured before they exit care, so they aren’t scrambling at the last minute to find a place to live.
It will take a coordinated effort to help young people transitioning out of foster care find affordable housing. Safe, stable housing leads to successful, productive, and self-sufficient lives. Something every Hoosier should have a right to.
Dr. Maggie Stevens is the President & CEO of Foster Success, an Indiana-based nonprofit that provides financial, educational and social support to foster care youth at a most critical time – when they are about to or have already transitioned out of the foster care system, most often with no family or economic support. Each year in Indiana, about 500 youth age out of the foster care system and into our communities. More information about Foster Success can be found at www.fostersuccess.org.