The Family Options Study


The Family Options Study is a multi-site random assignment experiment designed to study the impact of various housing and services interventions on homeless families. Primary outcomes of interest include: housing stability, family preservation, child well-being, adult well-being, and self-sufficiency. Between September 2010 and January 2012, over 2,200 homeless families across twelve communities enrolled into the study, and were randomly assigned to one of three interventions (subsidy only, project-based transitional housing, community-based rapid re-housing) or usual care. Families are being tracked for a minimum of three years, and were extensively interviewed at baseline/random assignment, 18-months after random assignment (completed in September 2013 with an 81% response rate), and again at 36 months after random assignment (interviews began in March 2014 and will conclude in March 2015).

The primary focus of data collection is the head-of-household within each family, but data on one focal child within each family is also being collected from the head-of-household. In 2010, The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) funded the research team to conduct a companion study supporting data collection on a second focal child in each family, as well as direct child and parent observations in the home at the time of the 18-month interview. HUD included funding in the final phase of the research effort to extend the child data collection component to the 36-month wave of data collection.

An interim report, released in March 2013, describes the study’s design and implementation, and provides preliminary information about the extent to which families have enrolled in the assigned interventions. The key findings in the interim report relate to families’ enrollment in the different interventions being studied — both the barriers presented by stringent eligibility criteria of programs that often screen households out of assistance, and the choices made by households to reject the intervention offered. A subsequent report in early 2015 will document the impacts of the various interventions and their relative costs at the 18-month follow-up period, and a final report in late 2016 will document the impacts of the four interventions at the 36-month follow-up period. All products generated from this study will be housed on this project page. For additional information, please contact Anne Fletcher at

Interim Report

This report presents results from the early implementation of the study of the Impact of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families, referred to here as the Family Options Study. The Family Options Study is being sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to measure the relative impacts of four interventions commonly employed within local communities to help families experiencing homelessness. The study compares the impacts of: community-based rapid re-housing (CBRR), project-based transitional housing (PBTH), permanent housing subsidies (SUB), and the usual care (UC) emergency shelter system in 12 communities.

This interim report describes the baseline characteristics of the families enrolled in the study and the housing and services interventions the families were offered. The report also describes the study’s design and implementation and provides preliminary information about the extent to which families have enrolled in the assigned interventions. A subsequent document (in 2014) will report on the impacts of the four interventions and their relative costs. The impact analysis will use data collected from a survey of families 18 months after random assignment as well as administrative data measuring receipt of HUD assistance and data on returns to shelter from local Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS). The 18-month follow-up survey began in July 2012 and will continue through September 2013. The research team will also prepare a series of short issue briefs to discuss additional findings that may be relevant to policymakers, practitioners, and researchers.

Download the Interim Report

Data Collection and Analysis Plan

The objective of the Family Options Study is to provide research evidence to help federal policymakers, community planners, and local practitioners make sound decisions about the best ways to address homelessness among families. The study will compare four combinations of housing and service interventions for homeless families who have been in emergency shelters for at least seven days. The study is conducted as a rigorous, multi-site experiment, to determine what interventions work best to promote family stability and well-being. Within the limits of statistical power, the study will also analyze what types of families benefit most from each intervention. The four interventions studied are:

  • Permanent Housing Subsidy (SUB). The permanent subsidy is typically in the form of a Housing Choice Voucher, without dedicated supportive services.
  • Project-Based Transitional Housing (PBTH). This intervention features temporary housing assistance offered for up to 24 months (with average expected length of stay of 6 to 12 months) in transitional housing facilities combined with supportive services.
  • Community-Based Rapid Re-housing (CBRR). CBRR provides temporary rental assistance for 2 to 6 months (potentially renewable for periods up to 18 months) in conventional, private-market housing, with limited, housing-focused services.
  • Usual Care (UC). UC includes any additional time spent in emergency shelters and the services that people would normally access on their own from shelter in the absence of these other interventions.

Download the Data Collection and Analysis Plan

Scholarly Publications

The Family Options Study provides a unique platform to generate research findings related to family homelessness. To date, several scholarly publications have been generated based on this research effort:

Leaving Homelessness Behind: Housing Decisions Among Families Exiting Shelter. Fisher, Benjamin W.; Mayberry, Lindsay; Shinn, Marybeth; and Khadduri, Jill. 2014. Housing Policy Debate, 24(2), pp. 364-386.

Because homelessness assistance programs are designed to help families, it is important for policymakers and practitioners to understand how families experiencing homelessness make housing decisions, particularly when they decide not to use available services. This study explores those decisions using in-depth qualitative interviews with 80 families recruited in shelters across four sites approximately six months after they were assigned to one of four conditions (permanent housing subsidies, project-based transitional housing, community-based rapid re-housing, or usual care). Familiar neighborhoods near children's schools, transportation, family and friends, and stability were important to families across conditions. Program restrictions on eligibility constrained family choices. Subsidized housing was the most desired intervention, and families leased up at higher rates than in other studies of poor families. Respondents were least comfortable in and most likely to leave transitional housing. Uncertainty associated with community-based rapid re-housing generated considerable anxiety. Across interventions, many families had to make unhappy compromises, often leading to further moves. Policy recommendations are offered.

Families experiencing housing instability: The effects of housing programs on family routines and rituals. Mayberry, L. S., Shinn, M., Benton, J. G., & Wise, J. (2014). Families experiencing housing instability: The effects of housing programs on family routines and rituals. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(1), 95-109. doi:10.1037/h0098946. Copyright © 2014 by the American Orthopsychiatric Association. Reproduced with permission.

Maintenance of family processes can protect parents, children, and families from the detrimental effects of extreme stressors, such as homelessness. When families cannot maintain routines and rituals, the stressors of poverty and homelessness can be compounded for both caregivers and children. However, characteristics of living situations common among families experiencing homelessness present barriers to the maintenance of family routines and rituals. We analyzed 80 in-depth interviews with parents who were experiencing or had recently experienced an instance of homelessness. We compared their assessments of challenges to family schedules, routines, and rituals across various living situations, including shelter, transitional housing programs, doubled-up (i.e., living temporarily with family or friends), and independent housing. Rules common across shelters and transitional housing programs impeded family processes, and parents felt surveilled and threatened with child protective service involvement in these settings. In doubled-up living situations, parents reported adapting their routines to those of the household and having parenting interrupted by opinions of friends and family members. Families used several strategies to maintain family routines and rituals in these living situations and ensure consistency and stability for their children during an otherwise unstable time.

Quick Links

Click to download the files.