Frequently Asked Questions

Supportive housing emerged in the 1980s as a cost-effective solution to homelessness. Despite its record of success, this unique housing model is often confused with homeless shelters, public housing projects or drug-treatment clinics. The following section aims to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about supportive housing.

What is supportive housing?

Supportive housing is permanent, affordable housing in which support services are offered on-site to help homeless, disabled and low-income people live independently in the community. Tenants have leases or lease-like agreements, apartments are affordable, rent cannot exceed one-third of tenants’ income and property management and services are provided by nonprofit organizations.

What does it look like?

Supportive housing is built to blend seamlessly with the buildings around it. Nonprofit organizations typically develop supportive housing to be either the nicest building on the block or "invisible" to enhance desirability for neighbors and tenants. See the Network's photo gallery for images of supportive housing residences.

Who lives in supportive housing?

Tenants can include people with psychiatric disabilities, people with histories of addiction, seniors, families, young adults aging out of foster care, people living with HIV/AIDS and people who have been homeless. Many supportive housing residences in New York City also provide up to 40% of their apartments for low-income residents from the neighborhood.

What kinds of services are available in supportive housing?

The range of services offered is flexible and depends on the needs of the tenants. They can include mental and medical health care, vocational and employment services, child care, independent living skills training and substance abuse counseling.

What is the impact of developing supportive housing on the community?

  • On property values: According to the most rigorous and largest study to date, supportive housing does not depress neighboring property values and actually leads to a slight increase in value for properties closest to new residences.
  • On employment: A 100-unit supportive housing residence creates 133 jobs during construction and 12 permanent ongoing ones. Providers frequently give local preference for jobs where possible.
  • On crime: The presence of on-site, around-the-clock staff who are charged with maximizing tenants’ success typically leads to decreases in neighborhood crime.
  • On accountability: Nonprofit organizations respond immediately to community concerns.
  • On community development: Supportive housing residences frequently act as an anchors for the blocks on which they’re developed, making way for neighborhood redevelopment.  
  • On community resources: Supportive housing often features community rooms, gardens and libraries that providers share with the local community.

How successful is supportive housing?

According to studies conducted over the past 15 years, supportive housing is the most successful intervention yet developed for ending homelessness among the most vulnerable.

How cost-effective is supportive housing?

Supportive housing drastically reduces the use of the costliest systems of care including hospital emergency rooms, acute care and inpatient psychiatric care according to a half-dozen studies nationally. In New York, the largest, most rigorous study of tenants’ use of services before and after entering supportive housing found that on average, a supportive apartment in New York City saves more than $16,000 across seven systems. Visit the Network's research repository for more studies on the cost-effectiveness of supportive housing.

When and why was supportive housing first developed?

Supportive housing was initially developed in 1980 in New York City to meet the needs of thousands of homeless individuals sleeping on city streets. These people were the victims of multiple societal factors, which included deinstitutionalization and the destruction of more than 100,000 units of affordable housing. Research indicated that the vast majority of homeless individuals grappled with underlying issues including mental illness, chronic illness and substance abuse in addition to the lack of housing. Nonprofit organizations began experimenting with a model of housing that offered tenants quality, affordable rental housing as well as comprehensive on-site services to assist them with the issues that kept them cycling among homelessness and institutions. These early experiments in supportive housing became the basis for a national movement. Learn more about the origins of supportive housing here.

How does supportive housing work?

The concept behind supportive housing is simple: Tenants rent attractive, safe, affordable apartments and have immediate access to whatever on-site support they need to stay housed and healthy.

Who runs supportive housing?

Supportive housing is owned and operated by nonprofit organizations, with regular oversight from city, state and federal agencies.

Where is supportive housing located?

Though supportive housing exists across the country, New York City remains the epicenter with more than 28,000 units. There are more than 46,000 units throughout New York State. For a full list of NYC residences, see here.

Where can I learn more?

The Supportive Housing Network of New York represents more than 220 supportive housing providers statewide. Call our New York City office (646-619-9640) or Albany office (518-465-3323) to learn more.