Identifying new affordable housing options for people facing homelessness is a complex challenge, especially in high-cost housing markets. Shared housing – when two or more unrelated people share housing costs and common space – is an adaptable solution when coordination happens at the system level. Scaling shared housing could allow us to expand our crisis response with additional rapid and solution-based housing options.
Across the country, successful shared housing programs have emerged in places like Fredericksburg, Virginia; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Los Angeles and Orange County, California. The essential common components of these programs include: a client-centered approach, capacity to flexibly fund landlord engagement resources, conflict mediation training, and adaptable roommate matching processes. Some of the outcomes we’re seeing include:
- MICAH’s, a Fredericksburg, VA, shared housing model, found that 84% of clients housed in their shared permanent supportive housing (PSH) remained stably housed after one year of housing.
- West Palm Beach’s Shared Housing for Youth initiative has housed over 500 youth experiencing homelessness in shared housing since 2017 using rapid re-housing, tenant-based vouchers, and some family reunification housing assistance.
- LA Family Housing has also successfully used rapid re-housing assistance to connect over 300 people (individuals and families) to shared housing in the past year.
In Orange County, CA, the Illumination Foundation has connected over 250 highly vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness with chronic disabling conditions to shared housing in micro-communities since 2017. Illumination Foundation micro-communities are shared homes in residential neighborhoods that have been adapted to serve as PSH for 5 to 8 individuals in each home. Illumination Foundation master-leases the houses, and clients independently lease a room in the house. Critically needed support services are then provided by the program.
Residents are grouped together intentionally based on common interests, housing history, compatibility, and level of service needs. Each resident has their own private room and shares a common kitchen and living area with other residents. This combination of private and shared space provides the environment for individuals seeking group or individual behavioral health, substance use, and case management services. It also builds a sense of community, a critical support for clients who formerly experienced homelessness and are struggling with feelings of isolation.
As the need for this type of affordable supportive housing has grown, so has the number of micro-communities. Today, Illumination Foundation operates 22 micro-communities, housing 95 individuals who have exited homelessness in Orange and Los Angeles Counties. All of the micro-community residents in Orange County have at least one chronic disabling condition and over 75% have mental health and/or substance use challenges. Behavioral health, substance use, and case management services are provided to all residents, meeting people in their own homes, providing supportive referrals to necessary medical services.
The goal for micro-communities is to simultaneously strengthen relationships between clients, case worker supports, and connections to mainstream health, mental health, and employment providers in the broader community. Of all residents who moved into Illumination Foundation micro-communities in 2018 and 2019, 83% have remained stably housed or exited to a stable housing situation.
Shared housing as PSH or rapid re-housing does not replace other housing efforts, but rather extends the capacity of the system to move more people out of homelessness sooner, especially in tight housing markets. Shared housing can also be successfully deployed in conjunction with community prevention efforts, as well as in connection with coordinated entry processes, in shelter, and as interim housing models.
For communities struggling to find rapid pathways to address the human and social crises of homelessness, the time to expand shared housing options is now. Multiple organizations across the country have led the way, showing us that shared housing can, and does, work. Shared housing is a norm in our national housing market and can be a norm in our system-wide response to end homelessness.