Investments in this strategy aim to improve tenant welfare by improving access to supportive services, which may include employment training, mental and physical health care, education programs, case management, substance abuse programs, and others. The sections below include an overview of the strategy for achieving desired goals, supporting evidence, core metrics that help measure performance toward goals, and a curated list of resources to support collecting, reporting on, and using data for decision-making.

What

Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What is the problem the investment is trying to address? For the people experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

Individuals living in affordable housing are disproportionately likely to struggle to find a job, obtain treatment for physical or mental illness, find educational programs, or gain access to government benefits (5). Each supportive service linked to affordable housing aims to help tenants to navigate those challenges—for example, employment and skills-building services, health care, education programs, or social services—and to develop the skills they need to sustainably afford housing and live independently. While supportive services often generate cost savings for a community or local government, they represent an additional expense for the project developer and building management company. Many investors seek nonprofit partners to deliver case management, healthcare, or education services. For any population that cannot access stable housing or that lack the skills needed to maintain housing, the outcomes associated with this investment strategy are likely essential. Investments in this theme can improve access to supportive services by: 

  1. providing case management, which can link tenants to a landscape of various other services, as needed;
  2. incorporating space for services on site, including mental and physical healthcare centers, alcohol and substance abuse treatment, vocational or training programs, and programs to build independent living skills; and
  3. contributing to improved physical and mental health, reduced rates of recidivism and homelessness, improved educational and employment-related outcomes, improved standards of living, reduced government spending, and significantly improved community health and wellness.

What is the scale of the problem?

While there are no strong estimates for the number of housing-insecure people lacking adequate access to supportive services globally, demand for affordable housing is high. See Improved Housing Quality and Increased Resources Available after Housing Payments strategies.

Who

Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who/What is helped through this strategy?

While all residents of affordable housing can benefit from supportive services, several groups benefit more:

Individuals with Behavioral or Mental Health Issues: Supportive services linked to housing, studies show, significantly improve a range of outcomes for populations with behavioral health issues compared to similar populations housed without supportive services, including by ensuring longer duration of residence and reducing emergency room visits (1).

Individuals Living with Chronic Illness: Supportive services linked to housing are one of the most cost-effective interventions for individuals living with illnesses that require ongoing care and management, including HIV/AIDS, diabetes and other diet-related diseases, and aging-related diseases in older populations (2).

Formerly Incarcerated Individuals in the U.S.: Many subsidized housing offerings in the U.S. strictly prohibit formerly incarcerated individuals as tenants. For this and many other reasons (e.g., long waiting lists, resistance from landlords, incomes and work histories insufficient to pay rent), formerly incarcerated individuals often struggle to find stable, secure, permanent housing on their release from prison. Supportive services tied to accessible, affordable housing have been shown to reduce rates of recidivism (1).

Formerly Homeless Individuals: see Reduced Homelessness strategy.

What are the geographic attributes of those who benefit?

In most developed-market countries, homeless populations live primarily in urban or peri-urban areas. For example, between 4% and 7% of the U.S. homeless population (compared to roughly 15% of the total population) live in rural areas (3). Housing insecurity is also often more acute in urban areas, though it may be difficult to measure housing insecurity among less-dense rural populations (4).

Contribution

Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

Is the investment’s contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How Much and Who?

The extent to which this strategy can address the issue depends on the affordable housing project and the nature of the housing brought to market. Housing accessibility requires units that are physically, financially, and intellectually accessible to their intended end beneficiaries.

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many can receive the outcome through this strategy?

The number of individuals who can benefit from this strategy is limited only by the number of individuals with insufficient or unstable housing—about 48% of U.S. renters, for example—as nearly all individuals in affordable housing units can benefit from some type of supportive services (5).

How much change can beneficiaries experience through this strategy?

The amount of change derived from this strategy depends on the housing provided as well as the degree to which supportive services are successfully used by the target individuals to enrich their lives and improve health, well-being, and financial and residential stability. Examples of change aligned with this strategy include:

  • A study from Los Angeles—home to 10% of the entire U.S. homeless population—found that placing a chronically homeless individual into permanent supportive housing saved the city more than $20,000 per year (6). 
  • Access to housing court mediation/legal services in Hennepin County, Minnesota led to settlement without eviction and families retaining housing in 69% of cases raised against families in housing court (9).
  • In a study focused on housing vouchers, researchers found that moving to lower-cost housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods improved physical and mental health outcomes, particularly for low-income women and their adolescent daughters (10).
  • An evaluation of a project focused on recidivism that included social services and community spaces found that formerly incarcerated individuals participating in the project were significantly less likely to be incarcerated for misdemeanors within a year of release compared to non-participants (8).

Illustrative Investment

In 2006, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections partnered with the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) to design Returning Home Ohio, a unique initiative created to prevent recidivism and reduce chronic homelessness for individuals released from state prisons. The project links disabled prisoners with a history of housing instability and homelessness to supportive housing. As a community development financial instution (CDFI) lender, the CSH subcontracts with nonprofit supportive housing providers like the Emerald Development and Economic Network, Inc. (EDEN), a nonprofit affordable housing developer and advocate. EDEN recently developed Greenbridge Commons, a 70-unit permanent supportive housing building that serves disabled, homeless individuals. Applicants must have a documented disability, and EDEN gives priority to those with drug or alcohol dependencies, mental illness, or HIV/AIDS. Greenbridge Commons provides on-site social services, community rooms, and a 24-hour staffed front desk (7).

An evaluation of Returning Home Ohio found that participants were significantly less likely to be reincarcerated or rearrested for misdemeanors within one year of release (8). This program demonstrates that supportive housing can benefit the reentry population. Investors interested in decreasing recidivism can look to invest in housing developers that collaborate with community-based providers and correctional agencies to ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals are reintegrated into their communities.

An evaluation of Returning Home Ohio found that participants were significantly less likely to be reincarcerated or rearrested for misdemeanors within one year of release (8). This program demonstrates that supportive housing can benefit the reentry population. Investors interested in decreasing recidivism can look to invest in housing developers that collaborate with community-based providers and correctional agencies to ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals are reintegrated into their communities.

Draw on Evidence

This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.

NESTA: 1
Supportive Housing Helps Vulnerable People Live and Thrive in the Community

Ehren Dohler, Peggy Bailey, Douglas Rice, and Hannah Katch. “Supportive Housing Helps Vulnerable People Live and Thrive in the Community.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

NESTA: 1
Medicaid And Permanent Supportive Housing For Chronically Homeless: Literature Synthesis and Environmental Scan

Martha R. Burt, Carol Wilkins, and Danna Mauch. Medicaid and Permanent Supportive Housing for Chronically Homeless Individuals: Literature Synthesis and Environmental Scan. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2011.

NESTA: 1
Toward Understanding Homelessness: The National Symposium on Homelessness 2007

D. J. Rog and J. C. Buckner. “Toward Understanding Homelessness: the 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research.” Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services (2007).

NESTA: 2
The Relationship Between Community Investment in Permanent Supportive Housing and Chronic Homelessness

Thomas Byrne, Jamison D. Fargo, Ann Elizabeth Montgomery, Ellen Munley, and Dennis P. Culhane. “The Relationship Between Community Investment in Permanent Supportive Housing and Chronic Homelessness.” Social Service Review 88, no. 2 (2014): 234-263.

NESTA: 1
Supportive Housing for High-Need Families in the Child Welfare System

Mary Cunningham, Michael Pergamit, Marla McDaniel, Maeve Gearing, Simone Zhang, and Brent Howell. “Supportive Housing for High-Need Families in the Child Welfare System.” Urban Institute, Washington, DC (2014).

NESTA: 1
Building on Success: Strengthening Provider Capability to Provide Permanent Supportive Housing

A. Gornstein and China Boak Terrell. “Building on Success: Strengthening Provider Capability to Provide Permanent Supportive Housing.“ Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.

Additional Metrics

While the above core metrics provide a starter set of measurements that can show outcomes of a portfolio targeted toward this goal, the additional metrics below — or others from the IRIS catalog — can provide more nuance and depth to understanding your impact.