Elisabeth Haub Law School of Law
Pace University
Land Use Law Center
Supervisor: John R. Nolon, Distinguished Professor
Blog No. 35 of the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
Editor: Brooke Mercaldi
Contributing Authors: Michael Ohora and Jaclyn McBain Cohen [*]


Using Supportive Housing to Address Homelessness


Supportive housing is a form of permanent affordable housing that provides supportive services, such as “mental health, physical health, language, and cultural needs, education, employment, addiction and recovery, tenant rights and others” to individuals who are homeless, vulnerable to becoming homeless, or disabled. Supportive housing programs take the “housing first” approach, which involves addressing homelessness by placing individuals in a permanent residence before addressing other issues, such as drug addiction, physical and mental health issues, unemployment, and insufficient development of life skills. By prioritizing housing, individuals are provided a secure environment to work on their vulnerabilities rather than doing so while on the street or in a shelter. Permanent supportive housing programs achieve an occupancy retention rate as high as 98%. In contrast to the “housing first” approach, the “services first” approach involves attempting to meet the needs of homeless individuals while they are unprotected by permanent shelter. States, such as Utah, that have shifted from a “services first” approach to a “housing first” approach have seen substantial decreases in their homeless populations as individuals are given housing to provide stability from which they can begin to work on sobriety, mental health problems, job seeking, etc.


There are two main models of supportive housing: the scatter-site model and the single-site model. The scatter-site model involves an organization purchasing housing units across a variety of buildings and properties, which can include apartments, condominiums, or houses. This model allows supportive housing units to be integrated within the general community, and it allows for flexibility in the creation of supportive housing units since any number of units in one building can be purchased to serve as supportive housing. In a clustered scatter-site model, units can be purchased to form a cluster of supportive housing units within a larger property. The clustered scatter-site housing scheme forms an “economy of scale” by reducing the costs incurred by service providers to cover travel, staffing, and maintenance fees. In contrast to the scatter-site model, the single-site model involves a not-for-profit developer purchasing an entire building and using all of the units to provide supportive housing. In this model, on-site services are provided and tailored to the needs of the building’s occupants.


Local governments can aid in the provision of supportive housing in a variety of ways. For example, Los Angeles initiated the Proposition HHH Supportive Housing Loan Program for the purpose of providing loans to developers who build supportive housing developments. This proposition was passed by voters in 2016, thereby authorizing a $1.2B bond to offer loans. The goal of the project is to build 8,000 supportive housing units. Developers work with the City to identify providers of the particular supportive services needed by the types of vulnerable tenants who will occupy the new units. The City’s requirements specify that the supported residents be “extremely low income” (up to 30% of the area median) or “very low income” (up to 50% of the median) and to be homeless or chronically homeless.


As another example, New York City sponsors the 15/15 Initiative through the Office of Supportive and Affordable Housing and Services. The 15/15 Initiative involves developing 15,000 new supportive housing units by 2030. A task force delivered specific recommendations regarding data & evaluation, referrals, service models, and streamlining development. Recommendations include: using a vulnerability index to target housing to certain populations; minimizing time spent waiting in shelters; implementing a holistic approach to family services; and improving community engagement for new projects.


Services provided in the 15/15 program vary based on the occupants’ needs. For example, CAMBA is a provider of housing and services that include medical treatment for chronic illness, case management, nutritional services (such as food distribution), parenting support, family economic services, and legal services. The comprehensive nature of services that go beyond medical services help individuals in supportive housing gain and maintain both stability within their lives and the ability to be productive members of their communities.


Funding for the 15/15 program comes from the City’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development. The Supportive Housing Loan Program requires that 60% of the units be set aside for homeless or disabled individuals and the remaining 40% be rented to tenants with income falling below 60% of the area’s median income. The loans are for 30 years and a maximum of $125,000 per unit. At the state level, the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative provides funding for supportive housing. Here, applicants request funding with a maximum of $25,000 per individual, which can be used to provide rental subsidies, supportive services, building security, transportation, and education. The Supportive Housing Loan Program and the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative are just two of the many funding opportunities available through public and private sources that providers can take advantage of for the development and operation of their supportive housing programs.


For additional resources, the Gaining Ground Information Database is a free resource featuring best practice models used by governments to control the use of land in the public interest. Please direct your search toward the Healthy Communities topic.


[*] Michael Ohora, this blog’s primary author, is a first-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and a Land Use Law Center volunteer.

Jaclyn McBain Cohen is a third-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Research Assistant to Professor Nolon.

Brooke Mercaldi is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Land Use Scholar in the Land Use Law Center.


The previous blogs in the series are listed here:

  1. Reframing Sustainability: Introducing the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
  2. Planning for Public Health: A New Beginning for Land Use Law
  3. The Role of Density in Combatting Climate Change and COVID-19
  4. Novel Coronavirus Claims Implicate Age-Old Property Rights Questions
  5. State & Local COVID-related Emergency Powers: Individual Rights
  6. COVID-Related Land Use Regulations and Judicial Deference
  7. Mediation of Eviction Disputes May Hold the Key to the Survival of Small Businesses
  8. Using Zoning to Help Eliminate Food Deserts: A Few Steps Forward
  9. Urban Heat Islands and Equity
  10. Urban Heat Island and Equity: What Can Local Governments Do?
  11. The Recovery Lease: Preventing Evictions of Commercial Tenants During the Pandemic
  12. The Role of Hazard Mitigation Planning in Promoting Public Health and Resilience
  13. Hazard Mitigation Planning: A Case Study
  14. Complete Streets: Protecting Public Health
  15. Zoning and Lease Mediation as a Way to Retain Critical Small Businesses
  16. Segregation by Law and the Racial Inequity Pandemic
  17. Combating Food Swamps to Improve Equity and Public Health
  18. The Pandemic Plan for Healthy Buildings
  19. Remediating Distressed Properties to Improve Public Health
  20. Housing, a Crucial Determinant of Health
  21. ADU Introduction
  22. NIMBY Restrictions to Poison the Prospects of Accessory Dwelling Units to Address Housing Insecurity
  23. Zoning to Fill the Missing Middle Housing Gap
  24. Old Tools to Fight Housing Insecurity: Adaptive Reuse and Infill Development
  25. Racial Impact Analyses
  26. A New Era of Equity-Based Comprehensive Planning…Finally
  27. Equity-Based Comprehensive Plans: Land Use Policies to Correct Past Disparities
  28. Reversing the Legacy of Redlining: Reducing Exposure to Toxins and Pollutants Through Land Use Law Reform
  29. Addressing the Four Pandemics – A Case Study
  30. Health Impact Assessments: A New Tool for Analyzing Land Use Plans, Zone Changes, and Development Projects
  31. Putting the “e” in TOD
  32. The Four Pandemics Explained and Addressed by Land Use Law and Policy
  33. Gentrification: Remedies and Consequences
  34. What is Climate Gentrification and Why is it Different?


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