WASHINGTON — Former foster youth soon will be able to access federal housing vouchers for a longer period of time, a move supporters say will help ease their transition into adulthood.
The Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act (HR 3700) would make changes to federal rental assistance programs, such as expanding renters’ access to higher-income neighborhoods and streamlining the rules for rent determinations.
For former foster youth, the relevant provisions are in changes to the Family Unification Program (FUP), which provides housing vouchers to families that risk involvement by a child welfare agency or are unable to bring a child home from an out-of-home placement because of inadequate housing.
Under current law, eligible former foster youth ages 18 to 21 can participate in the program for 18 months. The legislation would extend eligibility to age 24 and increase support to 36 months.
President Obama is expected to sign the bill, which the Senate passed by unanimous consent earlier this month before leaving for a lengthy summer recess. The House passed the bill earlier this year by a vote of 427 to 0.
Ruth White, executive director of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, said the extension from 18 to 36 months is critical for former foster youth.
“They’re the only group of recipients who are time-limited. They’re in a developmental phase of their lives where it’s often going to take more than 18 months for them to become self-sufficient,” she said.
The change also would make it easier for landlords, who prefer to rent in yearlong increments, White added.
Each year, more than 20,000 foster youth age out of care and many face health, education, housing challenges and other difficulties.
Former foster youth are at greater risk of experiencing homelessness than their peers, according to researchers. One study in three Midwestern states found that 36 percent of the participating former foster youth had experienced an episode of homelessness by age 26.
The legislation also would extend eligibility to youth who will leave foster care within 90 days, allowing for a smoother transition. In addition, the bill would require the Housing and Urban Development Department to issue guidance to public housing and child welfare agencies about how to most effectively run the FUP for former foster youth.
White said it is important to bridge any gaps between child welfare and public housing agencies that may delay a young person’s entry into the program and ensure former foster youth have the support they need to be good tenants and eventually leave the program.
Advocates applauded lawmakers’ bipartisan support for the bill.
“At a time when Congress seems more polarized than ever, it is heartening to see senators from both sides of the aisle come together to unanimously enact important, substantive legislation that will streamline and improve affordable housing programs,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in a news release.