Skip to main content

Housing Initiatives for Youths Aging Out of Foster Care

In the United States, nearly 370,000 children are living without permanent families in the foster care system.[1] Although foster care agencies generally provide temporary housing and care for children and adolescents until they can be reunited with their family, cared for by relatives, or adopted, thousands of youths—more than 18,500 in fiscal year 2022—age out of the foster care system annually at age 18 (or 21 in some states).[2] This explainer outlines some of the unique challenges adolescents face that can lead to housing instability and homelessness. It also describes federal programs and recent policy initiatives to provide more stable housing for youths aging out of foster care.

Housing Challenges Faced by Foster Youth

Research suggests that stable housing benefits individuals in ways that extend beyond meeting the need for shelter.[3] Housing can be a platform for improving outcomes in education, employment, and physical and mental health. Access to stable housing during developmental transitions, such as late adolescence and early adulthood, is particularly important. Without additional support, however, former foster youths face several challenges that make it difficult to stay stably housed.

While still in foster care, youths can theoretically access supportive services to help them transition to independence. In practice, young adults might not receive any or adequate help, due to insufficient funding and lack of program capacity. Public child welfare agencies (PCWAs) have historically not been well integrated with other systems of care, such as local public housing authorities (PHAs) and workforce development agencies, that could support former foster youths in their early days of independence. Similarly, although individuals receiving federal child welfare assistance are automatically eligible for Medicaid coverage, these same individuals can experience lapses in coverage as they age out of the foster care system, posing concerns about continuity of care. Adolescents’ experience in the child welfare system also means that their applications for housing are often less competitive than those of other applicants. For instance, youths with child welfare histories are less likely to have high school diplomas or college degrees, are more likely to have encountered the juvenile or criminal legal systems, and may lack stable employment history. They are also more likely to have significant mental health issues and to have a family history of substance use. Due to these factors and other complications, former foster youths are at high risk of falling into homelessness and experiencing housing instability. As of FY2022, approximately 1 in 3 former foster youths had experienced homelessness between ages 17 and 21.[4] According to a 2019 study, almost one-third of youths experiencing homelessness had been in foster care in the past. Former foster youth without permanent housing solutions might alternatively “couch surf” at friends’ or relatives’ homes or live in crowded or unsafe conditions.

Federal Housing Support for Former Foster Youth

To promote housing stability and eliminate the gaps through which foster youths fall into housing insecurity and homelessness, the departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administer a range of federal programs, summarized in the table below.

Program Federal Department Program Summary Funding
John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood HHS The Chafee program, authorized under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, provides funding to state and local agencies for assistance to youths aging out of foster care. Supports can include education, employment, financial management, housing, emotional support, and assured connections with caring adults. Children ages 14 and older may access the aid. States can use up to 30% of their funding for housing-related expenses for youths who age out of foster care up to age 21, or to age 23 in states that extend foster care. FY2023 (enacted): $143 million
Educational and Training Vouchers (ETV) Program HHS ETV is a subprogram of Chafee and provides funding for postsecondary education and training needs of young adults who have experienced foster care after age 14. Youths can access vouchers of up to $5,000 per year to help cover the cost of attendance at a postsecondary institution, including associated housing costs. ETV can help young people up to age 26, but an individual can receive a voucher for no more than five years. FY2023 (enacted): $44 million
Title IV-E Foster Care Program HHS This program helps states, territories, and tribes provide safe and stable out-of-home care for eligible children and youth until they are safely returned home, placed permanently with adoptive families or legal guardians, or placed in other planned arrangements for permanency. The program was not designed to provide housing support specifically, but it can support programs for former foster youths up to age 26 under the Chafee program. FY2023 (enacted): $6.19 billion


Transitional Living Program HHS This program awards grants to nonprofits and public service organizations to provide long-term residential services to homeless youths ages 16 to 22. Grantees provide a range of services from transitional housing and youth development skills to educational support and career training. Living accommodations offered include host family homes, group homes, or supervised apartments. Supportive services provided include basic life skills building, educational opportunities, job attainment services, mental health care, physical health care, and emergency treatment. FY2023 (enacted): $59 million
Marylee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program (PSSF) HHS PSSF provides flexible funding to states to prevent unnecessary separation of children from their families, improve the quality of care and services during foster care, and help ensure children end up in permanent homes. The program also aims to prevent child maltreatment by providing supportive family services. The program can help youths in their transition to independence, including with housing-related costs. FY2023 (enacted): $553.3 million
Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services (CWS) HHS CWS provides grants to states and tribes for programs that help keep families together, including preventive measures to minimize child separations. If children are removed from their homes, they are placed in foster care with access to reunification services to facilitate their return to their families. Services are provided regardless of family income. If funding allows, the program can support former foster youths. Funds can be used to provide housing support. FY2023 (enacted): $268.7 million
Grants for the Benefit of Homeless Individuals (GBHI) HHS GBHI is a competitive grant program whose aim is to help communities expand and strengthen treatment and recovery support services for individuals (including youths) experiencing homelessness who have substance use disorders or co-occurring mental and substance use disorders. Funds cannot pay directly for housing but can be used to coordinate housing and services. FY2023 (enacted): $37.1 million total, with $15.3 million for this program
Healthy Transitions HHS Healthy Transitions is a competitive grant program for states, territories, and tribes to expand behavioral health services and supports to youths and adults ages 16-25 who have or are at risk for serious mental health conditions. Funds cannot pay directly for housing; the money must go to recovery support services to address critical needs, including housing. FY2023 (enacted): $30.45 million total, with $16.4 million for this program
Grants for Expansion and Sustainability of the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children with Serious Emotional Disturbance HHS The aim of the Children’s Mental Health Initiative (CMHI), a competitive grant program for states, territories, and tribes, is to provide resources to improve the mental health of children and adolescents, birth through age 21, at risk for or with serious emotional disturbances (SED), and their families. Although funds cannot pay directly for housing, grant recipients must report on metrics such as housing stability. FY2023 (enacted): $130 million, with $48.3 million for this program
Family Unification Program (FUP) HUD FUP seeks to help families for whom inadequate housing is a primary factor in child separation by awarding funding for housing choice vouchers through a competitive process to PHAs. Assistance is not time limited. FUP also makes vouchers available to youths who are 18-24 years old; left foster care or will leave within 90 days; and are homeless or at risk of homelessness at age 16 or older. Assistance is limited to 36 months unless the recipient meets requirements to receive an extension under the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities amendments. FY2023 (enacted): $30 million total, $25 million available for FUP youths
Youth Homeless Demonstration Program HUD Funds from the program support selected communities in the development and implementation of a coordinated community approach to preventing and ending youth homelessness. The Notice of Funding Opportunity process awards competitive grants. FY2022: 16 grantees were awarded $60 million total
Foster Youth to Independence Initiative (FYI) HUD FYI allocates housing choice vouchers noncompetitively to PHAs for eligible youth ages 18-24 who have left foster care or will exit within 90 days. Assistance is limited to 36 months unless the youth meets requirements to receive an extension under the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities amendments. Noncompetitive funds: Up to $15 million of 2023 FUP appropriated amount, up to $15 million of 2022 FUP appropriated amount, and approximately $659,000 from 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act

Note: This table highlights programs that make housing support available to youths and young adults with experience in the foster care system. It is not an exhaustive list of federal programs that support foster youths. State governments and local nonprofits also administer their own programs to support foster youths. For more information, visit:  

Targeted Housing Vouchers for Former Foster Youth

HUD’s Family Unification Program (FUP) and Foster Youth to Independence Initiative (FYI) offer the most substantial federal housing assistance targeted to former foster youth. FUP was created in 1990 in response to the high homelessness and housing instability risks that foster youths faced as they aged out of the child welfare system. Although it was not the first program to support the housing needs of former foster youths, FUP remains unique in its collaborative, cross-system design, whereby public housing authorities and public child welfare agencies coordinate to connect eligible families and youths to both housing vouchers and supportive services. PHAs administer housing vouchers to eligible households, and PCWAs identify those eligible households and offer supportive services.

FUP makes housing vouchers available to families at risk of separation due to unstable housing and to adolescents aging out of foster care who are at risk of becoming or are homeless. But because not all PHAs were awarded FUP vouchers, only communities whose PHAs received vouchers had the chance to access them. Further, families and unaccompanied youth at participating PHAs were competing for the same pool of resources. As of 2019, FUP-eligible youths made up only 5% of participants in the program, with FUP-eligible families making up the remaining 95%.

Responding to these concerns, in 2019 HUD made a dedicated source of voucher funding available solely for FUP-eligible youth, accessible to public housing authorities that did not already administer the Family Unification Program. PHAs could receive these vouchers as needed, rather than competitively, through the Foster Youth to Independence Initiative. In 2020, HUD updated FYI to expand its availability to all public housing authorities, further broadening former foster youths’ access to housing assistance. In the same year, President Donald Trump continued his administration’s support for foster youth by signing an executive order designed to strengthen supports for this population, and Congress passed the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Amendments Act, which extended assistance for eligible youths for up to two years beyond the 36-month time limit for youth participating in a Family Self-Sufficiency program or other eligible education, work, or employment activities.

As of October 2023, the FYI program had provided vouchers to 4,853 eligible households. For a fraction of the HUD budget ($15.3 million out of HUD’s $72 billion budget in FY2023), the FYI program provides housing support during a critical transition period for youths aging out of the foster system, which can empower them to finish their high school education, pursue a career or technical training, or enroll in higher education without facing housing insecurity. At the same time, PCWAs provide basic life skills, including budgeting, health care access, and nutrition; counseling on how to be a successful renter; job preparation and counseling; and educational counseling.

Looking Ahead

Foster youths face substantial challenges in their unique paths to independence. Republicans and Democrats alike have recognized that relatively modest federal investments provide lifelong benefits by helping former foster youths secure housing. Most recently, the Biden administration’s FY2024 budget proposed guaranteed housing vouchers for all youths aging out of foster care. According to previous BPC/Morning Consult polling, such a move enjoys strong bipartisan support, with nearly 70% of respondents, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats, in favor of guaranteed rental assistance for youths aging out of foster care.

Thank you to BPC’s health and child welfare teams for their contributions to this paper. A special thank you to Hope Cooper, Michele Gazda, and Rob Green.

[1] Administration for Children and Families, The AFCARS Report, FY2022, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May 9, 2023. Available at:

[2] Ibid.

[3] Amy Dworsky, Keri-Nicole Dillman, et al., “Housing for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care: A Review of the Literature and Program Typology,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, April 2012. Available at:

[4] Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Fostering Youth Transitions 2023, Data Tables,” May 3, 2023. Available at:

Read Next

Support Research Like This

With your support, BPC can continue to fund important research like this by combining the best ideas from both parties to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans.

Give Now