Abstract: No Easy Decisions: Developing an Evidence-Informed Process to Allocate Housing Choice Vouchers to Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

No Easy Decisions: Developing an Evidence-Informed Process to Allocate Housing Choice Vouchers to Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kristie Thomas, PhD, Associate Professor, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Jill Messing, MSW, PhD, Associate Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Allison Ward-Lasher, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Allocation of scarce resources is a perpetual challenge for human service providers. In the homelessness field, resource allocation is particularly vexing. A just allocation process, which prioritizes the neediest, maximizes individual and societal benefit, and treats people equally, depends on the availability of sound empirical evidence to help guide decisions. However, research has yet to identify factors that consistently predict housing success, especially among intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors. As a result, current screening and assessment tools are merely guides in the effort to balance need with benefit. 

With that context in mind, this presentation describes the development of an evidence-informed screening tool and process to allocate 25 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) to low-income IPV survivors. The process is part of an innovative pilot program called SASH (Survivors Achieving Stable Housing), which emerged from a community-academic partnership. Over a span of four months, we engaged in the following activities to develop the screening tool: (1) spoke with providers from DV Housing First programs; (2) reviewed the empirical literature on factors that affect housing success; (3) assessed existing screening and assessment tools for relevance and applicability; (4) solicited feedback from the local DV advocacy community; and (5) developed and refined the tool.

The SASH screening tool consists of two forms: a survivor self-referral form and an advocate referral form. Together they assess a total of 21 barriers to success in the HCV Program (e.g., level of danger, poor credit, prior housing instability). Success was defined as maintaining the voucher as long as needed, with the hope that some would “graduate” out. We developed a scoring system for the tool that would determine each referral’s cumulative barriers to success. Together, this process was intended to precede and support the Public Housing Authority (PHA) application process, not replace it.                                   

We opened the referral window for one week and received a total of 81 referrals from 11 IPV programs. After reviewing each application in depth, we applied the scoring system, and then randomly assigned the 61 remaining referrals to either the voucher group or the queue. The final group of 61 referrals had a mean age of 37 (range = 20 to 64 years old) and faced many barriers, even after excluding the bottom quartile. Those placed in the voucher group were assigned an MSW intern to help them complete the PHA application and – if approved – conduct their housing search.  At present, 20 survivors successfully leased up with a voucher, two of whom were later evicted. Eleven of the survivors from the original voucher group were not able to lease up. The SASH team is working to allocate the remaining five vouchers to survivors on the queue.

Developing and implementing the SASH screening tool and scoring system has been fraught with challenges (e.g., insufficient resources, little guidance from the empirical literature, and ethical quandaries). Nevertheless, the SASH allocation process is an example of resource distribution that is based on the best available evidence, supported by community stakeholders, and informed by contextual constraints.