Child Poverty

What You Need to Know About Federal Rental Assistance

June 28, 2021 | National

Federal rental assistance is a set of several programs—mostly administered through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture with support from tax credits—that help families with little or no income cover their housing costs. Our new fact sheet provides a useful primer on federal rental assistance.

The major federal programs—the largest of which are Housing Choice Vouchers, project-based vouchers, and public housing—help in many different ways, but the basic concept is that families with low incomes contribute a certain, sustainable amount of their income to their monthly rent payments and the government covers the rest. In total, these programs help more than 9 million people in 4.6 million households, more than a third of which were households with children.

Federal rental assistance has never been more important; millions of families with little or no income cannot afford skyrocketing rent and families with children are disproportionately likely to struggle to pay the rent. There are nearly 11 million families with low incomes in the U.S. that rent their homes and more than 70 percent of those families—including 2.6 million families with children—are “severely burdened” by housing costs, as defined by HUD. Put simply, families are considered severely rent burdened if they have income below 30 percent of the median income in their area and they spend more than half of their income on housing.

We know that housing assistance is very effective at alleviating rent burdens and improving outcomes for children. Over six million people in families with children receive federal rental assistance; rental assistance—the Housing Choice Voucher program, in particular—is proven to increase housing stability, reduce childhood poverty, and prevent homelessness.

Unfortunately, most families who qualify for rental assistance cannot actually get help. Even though federal rental assistance is proven to help reduce child poverty, homelessness, housing instability, and overcrowding, fewer than 1 in 4 eligible households with children receive it. This massive gap is due to deep underfunding for rental assistance programs, underfunding that leaves many millions of families with children without help, often stuck on waitlists for years.

To learn more, read our fact sheet: What You Need To Know About Federal Rental Assistance.