Ramping Up Rapid Re-Housing: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

April 29, 2015  |  Publications

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal block grant program that provides states $16.5 billion annually to help low-income families with children. TANF is used to provide a wide range of benefits and services consistent with the four purposes of the program. The first purpose of the TANF program is to “provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives.”

TANF funds can be used to support all three of the core components of rapid re-housing: providing families with assistance identifying housing, rent and move-in assistance (financial), and rapid re-housing case management and services. These services include help securing employment, a priority both for rapid re-housing and for TANF. Families receiving rapid re-housing assistance may also benefit from other services that TANF agencies provide, including cash assistance, longer-term help with employment, child care, and other work supports.

Community Examples

Mercer County, NJ

The Mercer County Board of Social Services (MCBOSS), which administers the TANF program, used TANF and other state resources to pay for emergency shelter and transitional housing for families. After a successful rapid re-housing pilot, and working closely with the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, MCBOSS decided to make rapid re-housing the primary response to family homelessness in the County. Today, the majority of homeless families receive TANF-funded rapid re-housing services delivered by MCBOSS staff. Family homelessness has declined dramatically— by 53 percent between 2010 and 2014.

Salt Lake City, UT

The Road Home, the largest shelter provider in Utah, mingles TANF funding from the Utah Department of Workforce Services with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) resources to rapidly re-house families experiencing homelessness. Families entering shelter are quickly connected to rapid re-housing services delivered by Road Home staff. A Workforce Services caseworker, stationed on site at The Road Home, assess parents’ employment barriers and provide employment search assistance. Rapid re-housing and employment services are closely coordinated. Families typically receive 5-6 months of rent assistance, paid for with both TANF and HUD resources. Through the expansion of rapid re-housing, The Road Home cut the time families spend homeless in half: from 71 days in 2009 to approximately 30 days in 2013.

Ada, Canyon and Twin Falls, ID

Charitable Assistance to Community Homeless (CATCH), Inc. is an agency that blends resources from government, faith communities, businesses, and charitable organizations to help families quickly exit homelessness and achieve stable housing and employment using a rapid re-housing approach. Families receive six months of rent assistance, housing identification assistance, intensive case management, financial mentoring and employment search assistance. CATCH receives TANF funds from the Idaho Department of Housing and Welfare to help pay for intensive case management and four months of rent assistance delivered to families by the nonprofit agency. After families are housed, employment becomes the primary focus of CATCH’s work with families. CATCH also partners with area banks that provide families with financial mentors and match families’ savings.

Important Program Details

How are funds distributed?

TANF funds are distributed directly to states as a block grant. The decision-making process about how TANF resources are used in each state can vary. In some states, TANF funding is tightly controlled by the state legislature. In others, state TANF officials have wide discretion in how TANF resources are used, while in others it is the county TANF agency that has the greater flexibility.

How can TANF funds be used?

  • Rent and Move-in Assistance. TANF resources can be used to provide a short-term, non-recurrent benefit to help families address a need that is not expected to be long-lasting or to recur. A short-term benefit can be used for security deposit, utility assistance, and/or to provide up to four months of rental assistance. Families do not have to be receiving TANF cash assistance to be eligible f or a short-term benefit. The TANF short-term benefit can be used alongside other federal, state, and local resources to extend rental assistance if necessary.
  • TANF resources can also be used to provide rental assistance for a longer period of time. When it is used for more than four months, however, states must report data on the households’ compliance with TANF work participation requirements and the months that a family receives TANF-funded rental assistance are counted toward state and federal TANF time limits.
  • Housing Identification and Rapid Re-housing Case Management and Services. TANF resources can be used to support the services necessary to help families secure housing, including housing search, landlord negotiation, mediation, and providing linkages to other needed supports and services.
  • Employment and Work Supports. TANF resources are used to pay for a wide range of services to help people secure and maintain employment, including subsidized employment, job training, and child care. Employment services are critically needed by families receiving rapid re-housing and should be designed to help parents secure employment quickly so they can pay rent independently, stabilize their housing, and increase their self-sufficiency.

What you can do

  • Learn more about use of TANF to support rapid re-housing. The Administration for Children and Families released an Information Memorandum (February 2013) encouraging state and local TANF administrators to assess how they can use TANF resources to support interventions to end family homelessness. Access the Memorandum and explore the different ways that TANF resources can support families in your community.
  • Meet TANF Leaders. Get to know the TANF leaders in your state and county. Educate them about family homelessness and rapid re-housing. A TANF leader who becomes a champion for rapid re-housing can be a critically important partner in building the case (and the know-how) for using TANF for rapid re-housing.
  • Promote Coordination between TANF programs and rapid re-housing services. Ensure that families who are homeless are receiving support they require from TANF agencies to find employment as quickly as possible. TANF agencies may consider waiving pre-application requirements for homeless families and instead expedite families’ applications for assistance. Communities can also establish protocols to proactively connect families to the supports and services they are eligible from TANF agencies upon entering shelter. TANF agency staff may also be out placed in programs serving homeless families to quickly connect families to the TANF services they require to rapidly exit homelessness.


This document was produced by the National Alliance to End Homelessness with the support of the Melville Charitable Trust as part of an effort to increase the use of effective rapid re-housing practices nationwide. The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a leading national voice on the issue of homelessness that accomplishes its mission through research and education, policy analysis and advocacy, and capacity building. The Melville Charitable Trust is the largest foundation in the U.S. that is exclusively devoted to supporting solutions to prevent and end homelessness.