J-PAL North America announces partners through inaugural Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator

J-PAL North America, a research center in MIT’s Department of Economics, announced new partnerships with four organizations across the United States as a part of the center’s inaugural Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator

Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC), Oakland Housing Authority (OHA), Project Hope Boston, and New Mexico Legal Aid were selected as partners under J-PAL North America’s Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator, which will support organizations in expanding the base of rigorous evidence on strategies to reduce and prevent homelessness. The selected organizations will develop randomized evaluations, also known as randomized controlled trials, to generate widely applicable lessons about strategies that are most effective at reducing homelessness and promoting housing stability for youth, families, and individuals. 

The selected partners will explore a variety of policies and programs for reducing housing instability and preventing homelessness, including anti-eviction and anti-foreclosure initiatives, affordable housing development, legal assistance for those at risk of eviction in housing court, and tenancy-sustaining support services for families experiencing housing instability. 

LISC, OHA, and Project Hope Boston will each receive one year of technical assistance from J-PAL North America’s staff of policy and research experts to develop their evaluation proposals, with the goal of preparing to implement a rigorous evaluation in partnership with academic researchers.

LISC plans to evaluate the effectiveness of an anti-eviction and anti-foreclosure intervention in protecting neighborhoods at risk of Covid-accelerated residential displacement. The intervention consists of strategies such as scaled-up legal services and housing counseling programs, scaled-up tenant and community organizing, and increased affordable housing development and preservation.

“Even before Covid-19’s disastrous economic fallout, LISC was deeply concerned with a growing wave of displacement throughout our network — not just in ‘hot’ housing markets, but in urban and rural areas all over the country,” says David Greenberg, LISC vice president of knowledge management and strategy. “The housing and community development field needs to understand grassroots strategies to prevent displacement and homelessness. But rigorous research is not just about assessing outcomes — it’s a way of building integrity into program design. We look forward to our partnership with J-PAL North America so we can more effectively partner with local communities, especially communities of color, who have been so deeply impacted by this ongoing housing crisis.”

OHA will study how intensive, comprehensive support services compare to lighter-touch services when measuring outcomes such as housing stability, employment, and education for individuals receiving housing in project-based units. There is limited evidence on the relative effectiveness of these services, and OHA hopes to understand how intensive the services provided in addition to housing supports must be in order to produce desired outcomes for the clients they serve. 

“OHA is thrilled to be chosen as a research partner for J-PAL’s Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator. The project will aid our efforts to deliver more stable housing and precious life enrichment services for formerly homeless individuals and vulnerable families in our community. Our team is ready to develop and launch this pilot program with J-PAL North America’s help,” says Patricia Wells, OHA executive director.

“The randomized evaluation is the newest commitment of the policy team,” says Dominica Henderson, director of policy, implementation, and compliance. “The results from this study will shape our homeless service projects for years to come — both locally and further afield.”

Project Hope Boston is interested in how pre-tenancy and tenancy-sustaining support services impact health outcomes among children and their families. In partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital, Project Hope Boston will study these impacts through providing families with case management services that cover employment and marketability coaching, pre-tenancy housing search and placement support, and tenancy-sustaining support services. 

“Project Hope Boston is pleased to partner with J-PAL North America to apply research and evaluation methods as a catalyst for social change. With funding and technical assistance from J-PAL North America, Project Hope Boston will develop a randomized evaluation design that will advance evidence-based practices to prevent and reduce homelessness,” says Tanya A. Hills, learning and evaluation manager for Project Hope Boston. “Research shows that housing instability and homelessness, including events that lead to homelessness, have lasting effects on an individual’s mental health. This can negatively affect a number of important life outcomes including education, overall health, and financial stability. Programs that operate at the intersection of health and housing, such as Project Hope’s Housing Stabilization program, have the potential to affect the lives of families across multiple health, housing, and economic public policy domains. Through this partnership, Project Hope Boston is excited to contribute to the body of evidence on reducing and preventing poverty.”

New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) is also receiving support from J-PAL North America to implement a pilot study around eviction prevention.

NMLA will work with Chris Griffin at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, and J-PAL affiliated researcher Jim Greiner from Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab, to carry out a pilot study of their “Lawyer for the Day” program, which offers legal assistance to individuals facing eviction. The study will compare the effectiveness of three types of informational and legal supports in preventing evictions and supporting longer-term housing stability for those in housing court. Through this pilot, NMLA hopes to understand which of these tiers of legal support is the most effective in helping residents avoid eviction.

Results from these evaluations will contribute to a growing body of evidence that can inform policies to reduce homelessness and promote housing stability in North America. To learn more about J-PAL North America’s work on reducing and preventing homelessness and the Housing Stability Evaluation Incubator, visit the Homelessness Reduction and Prevention Initiative webpage, sign up for the Initiative mailing list, or contact Rohit Naimpally, who leads J-PAL North America’s work on homelessness. If you are an agency or organization working to promote housing stability, prevent evictions, or reduce homelessness, we encourage you to reach out to discuss opportunities for partnership.