Housing Programs – The Types, The Differences and Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All


The UHM Foundation supports a wide variety of housing programs throughout the United States - from emergency shelters to transitional housing programs and more. We’ll explore the difference between each type of program and touch on why our communities need a spectrum of solutions to help solve the problem.

Written by Christina Fagan

One of the four key pillars that the Union Home Mortgage Foundation supports each year is housing; a factor we find critical in examining a family or individual’s overall self-sufficiency. In fact, housing is linked to so many factors in one’s life with direct correlation to educational attainment levels, long term physical and emotional health, financial success and more. And yet, housing affordability and homelessness continues to be a major issue for many Americans. But what can we do to help?

When it comes to housing programs, one size does not fit all, and as families or individuals face different circumstances or steps in their journey towards self-sufficiency, they may each require different needs. Some families may be relatively stable but encounter a sudden life event (a layoff, a major medical crisis, etc.) that puts them in distress, while another individual may have a longer journey that includes GED training, financial counseling and access to addiction recovery resources.

The UHM Foundation supports a wide variety of housing solutions…but many of these solutions are somewhat similar or heavily debated upon within our communities. So, what is the difference between these terms? How long can someone stay in each type of program? And, what are the different types of scenarios with each? Let’s walk through the housing continuum of care:

Prevention Services:

  • What does this solution look like? These services may be in the form of one-time financial assistance for housing payments or utility costs, or it may include eviction prevention services that focus more on legal or case management.
  • Who is this type of program for? This type of solution may be for the individual or family that needs minor assistance to be able to remain within their home.
  • Typical length: Usually this type of service is in the form of a one-time financial assistance.
  • Example of a program offered at one of UHMF’s nonprofit partners: The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s Eviction Prevention Program

Emergency Shelters:

  • What does this solution look like? When we think of a “typical” homeless shelter, it’s very likely that you may have an emergency shelter in your head. These shelters are meant to address immediate, basic needs. As such, they might appear to look more like a dorm or camp where there are several beds located within a smaller space. Usually, but not always, shelters will be able to provide meals, showers, and beds but not much more on premises. Outreach workers may be available to help connect those staying at an emergency shelter with a longer-term solution.
  • Who is this type of program for? Emergency shelters exist primarily to get people off the streets or away from a situation (like a domestic crisis) as quickly as possible.
  • Typical length of stay: Usually 30-90 days.
  • Example of a program offered at one of UHMF’s nonprofit partners: Volunteers of America Ohio and Indiana offer such shelters in Columbus and Sandusky.

Transitional or Interim Housing:

  • What does this solution look like? In some cases, the root cause behind a family or individual’s state of homelessness can’t be solved with a quick fix. They may need coordinated “wrap around” services while also receiving temporary housing. This is so that in the longer run, they can become stable enough that when they “transition” to an apartment or home on their own, the rate of return to homelessness is greatly reduced. Wrap around services may include legal support, access to health or childcare, mental health services, addiction recovery, financial counseling, ESL or education access, life skills training or even employment services. In many “transitional housing” programs, these services are offered within the program itself and may be a requirement to remaining housed.
  • Who is this type of program for? While many cases vary, you may see the following groups finding success with transitional programs:
    • Aging Foster Youth
    • Military/Veteran Personnel
    • Recently Incarcerated Individuals
    • Domestic Abuse Survivors
    • Those Recovering from Addictions
  • Typical Length of Stay: Average between 6-9 months, but some programs can last up to 24 months.
  • Example of a program offered at one of UHMF’s nonprofit partners: Homestretch VA

Rapid Re-Housing:

  • What does this solution look like? This solution is sometimes referred to as “Housing First” – meaning the priority is to connect someone to permanent housing as quickly as possible, and then connect them to services already being offered out in their community. These services are needed to address the issues that may have caused their homelessness in the first place. Over recent years, many have lauded the potential success of this program and cost benefits to the community at large. However, in order for rapid re-housing to be most successful, the area or city should have a large supply of affordable, and low-barrier housing options. Usually rapid re-housing programs would have three main aspects:
    • Access to Affordable Housing: finding affordable housing units and/or landlords that are willing to take on a client with lower credit or past evictions on their record. Certain outreach workers may help identify such locations in the area.
    • Housing/Rental Assistance: depending on the program, this assistance may help cover deposits, utilities, or moving fees until the client reaches stability.
    • Case Management/Supportive Services: this part connects the client with community services similar to transitional housing, but that may also include transportation assistance or even legal assistance in understanding lease agreements.
  • Who is this type of program for? This type of program might work well for families with children, or non-chronic homeless families or individuals that are experiencing unique, temporary crisis.
  • Typical Length of Stay: Usually the rental or housing assistance is offered up to a year, but may be more depending on the program.
  • Example of a program offered at one of UHMF’s nonprofit partners: Housing for New Hope in North Carolina

Permanent Supportive Housing:

  • What does this solution look like? Permanent supportive housing is designed to allow those most vulnerable to achieve the feeling of living independently while usually within a “community.” Here, they have continued access to multiple supportive services (mental and physical health, as well as life skills) simultaneously. This allows the individual to “permanently” remain housed at an affordable rate (typically less than 30% of income) either with rental subsidies or very low-cost housing options. One key difference with permanent supportive housing versus transitional is that participation in the supportive services offered is completely voluntary and not a requirement to remain housed. One of the key advantages of permanent supportive housing is that in the long run it may reduce the reliance on emergency medical costs – reducing overall healthcare costs.
  • Who is this type of program for? Permanent supportive housing is usually only used for those that have some type of disabling condition where they would need support to live successfully – sometimes this in the form of a physical disability, while other times this may be for those suffering from longer held trauma (ex: certain mental health conditions, PTSD, reoccurring addiction, etc). Or, it may be for individuals that are categorized as “chronically homeless” – meaning their cumulative time living unsheltered is equaled to a year or more.
  • Typical Length of Stay: Typically, there is no time limit to how long an individual can stay in this type of housing.
  • Example of a program offered at one of UHMF’s nonprofit partners: CHN Housing Partners in Cleveland has many interesting programs, including their Lease-purchase program, however they have worked hard to develop several permanent supportive housing programs in Northeast Ohio.

As you can see, every situation is different, and not everyone responds the same to a prescribed program. The need for a variety of these solutions within our communities continues. Many organizations (nonprofits, developers, and corporations) continue to look for advancements in affordable housing – from both a lobbying and innovation perspective – and there are some promising ideas out there. The UHM Foundation looks forward to continuing to be a part of the solution until the puzzle starts to form a better picture, even if it requires pieces of all shapes and sizes!