Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) are often touted as a “golden ticket” for reducing housing instability and homelessness. The path to receiving a voucher, however, can be complicated by myriad factors including scarcity of supply, strict eligibility requirements, and housing search challenges. Although intimate partner violence (IPV) has been identified as a primary risk factor for homelessness and housing instability, research has yet to sufficiently explore IPV survivors’ experiences with the HCV Program. Thus, the aims of this study were to explore (a) factors that facilitate and hinder survivors’ ability to lease up with a HCV and (b) the perceived impact of voucher receipt on safety and stability.
This qualitative study was part of a project that examined the impact of HCV receipt on homeless IPV survivors and their children. We invited 38 survivors who participated in the quantitative portion of the research, and who had been randomly assigned to HCV or waitlist groups, to participate in an in-depth interview. Among the 13 who agreed, participants were distributed equally between the voucher (46.2%) and waitlist (53.8%) group, had a mean age of 42.8, identified as women (100%), and were racially/ethnically diverse (61.5% were BIPOC). Interviews were semi-structured and tailored to participants’ experience with the HCV (i.e., leased up, waitlist, lost voucher). Interviews lasted approximately one hour and participants were offered a $50 gift card as a thank you. Data analysis included conventional content analysis and eclectic coding to develop codes and categories.
At the time of the interview, two of the six participants in the original voucher group had not successfully leased up; one because she had refused the voucher for safety reasons, and the other because she timed our before she could not find a unit. Among the waitlist group, three were eventually offered a voucher and successfully leased up, one was in the process of applying, another had been offered a voucher but refused it, and two had found other housing while on the waitlist. The 11 participants who had at least some experience with the HCV Program described the process as time consuming, riddled with roadblocks, and insensitive to their particular safety needs as IPV survivors. As a result, some felt forced to choose between safety and housing. Overall, those who successfully leased up reported that the voucher was a “lifesaver” for them and their children, and that they were glad they had not given up along the way.
Conclusions and Implications
Findings underscore the importance of a nuanced approach to serving IPV survivors who are homeless and unstably housed. Although HCVs are a critical resource, they can present tradeoffs that require substantial support and advocacy from service providers. Efforts to reduce these tradeoffs should include increasing the window of time to find housing, expanding the availability of eligible units, and educating public housing authority staff about the address IPV confidentiality program. (Please note: this abstract was withdrawn from the 2022 SSWR conference due to COVID; I was told we could resubmit it.)