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Guidance Process Finally Underway for Housing After Foster Care Program

A coalition of current and former foster youth conceived of and pushed for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act, which became law in late 2020.

After more than a year in development, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued official rules and regulations for states around the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act, which codified in law a program to support housing stability for youth who age out of foster care.

The proposed guidance, which was first published in the Federal Register last week, provides instructions for a plan that offers public housing vouchers for youth for up to five years after they have left the foster care system. The rules are retroactive going back to late December of 2020, when the act was signed into law by former President Donald Trump, and the public will now have until March 25 to provide comment on the guidance.

The path to this release began in earnest back in July of 2019, when former HUD Secretary Ben Carson, speaking at a youth family services provider in Milwaukee, announced a new initiative called Foster Youth to Independence. Carson and his leadership team had been sold on the plan by a group of current and former foster youth from Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now Ohio, which had also begun to seek legislation that would permanently establish such a program at HUD.

Foster Youth to Independence set up a recyclable voucher program meant to begin with case planners for older youth and young adults in foster care. Child welfare workers can notify the local public housing authority to access a single voucher for a youth preparing to leave care, and there are also blocks of vouchers that larger communities can apply for to use on a rolling basis.

Once a former foster youth is done with the voucher, it becomes available again for use with another person exiting the system. The vouchers are distributed on demand from HUD, and are also provided in bulk to local housing authorities on a competitive basis.

State and local systems are slowly becoming more aware of the option for youth exiting the system; thus far, 45 states have claimed at least one of the vouchers on behalf of a youth in foster care, according to tracking information provided by the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare. The vouchers are most popular thus far on the west coast: 45% of the nearly 1,500 issued thus far are for youth in Washington, Oregon and California.

Carson’s initiative locked in a three-year window for these vouchers. The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act adds an additional two years for any voucher recipient that voluntarily enrolls in the HUD-funded Family Self-Sufficiency program, which offers case management and financial services to help people in public housing increase their earnings. For public housing agencies that do not offer the self-sufficiency program, the guidance lays out an alternative process for approving extensions.

One open question for this program that is posed for public commenters is the use of education or work requirements for the extra two years available on the voucher, a notion that was endorsed as part of the law by the current and former foster youth who advocated for it. In the guidance, HUD seeks input on whether it should set a minimum or a maximum amount of hours required for recipients to continue with the voucher after the first three-year period. There are exemptions to those requirements carved out for those who are pregnant or parenting children under age 6, are seeking mental health or substance abuse treatment, or who are prevented from work or education by a medical problem.

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