Affordable housing is a national and statewide challenge that many are working to address, including the Indiana General Assembly Housing Task Force.
However, it’s an issue that particularly impacts young people in Indiana transitioning out of foster care and makes every other area of their lives more challenging.
On average, 25 percent of those who have experienced foster care will become homeless within four years of aging out or being emancipated from the foster care system.
I recently presented to the Housing Task Force where I shared a report Foster Success commissioned this summer to look at the unique housing-related challenges of teens and young adults transitioning out of foster care.
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 do – to prevent homelessness, not as a response to homelessness.
As of May 2022, just four Indiana counties were offering FUP vouchers, and 11 of 92 counties were offering FYI vouchers. That leaves 77 counties without any specific voucher program designed to support young people transitioning out of foster care.
Our state and local communities must also partner with and assist local Public Housing Authorities to build the infrastructure they need to support voucher programs to avoid delays in processing and approval. Anecdotally, we know that most agencies have just one staff member dedicated to processing each specific voucher. When they’re out of the office, the process is put on hold, and certain vouchers don’t get processed until they return to the office.
The other end of the spectrum is the need to 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.
Too many young people exit foster care without stable housing and end up couch surfing or on the streets. 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.
If we put new policies in place to help young people transitioning out of foster care succeed, they can build successful, productive, and self-sufficient lives. That starts with safe and stable housing.
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.