Understanding Housing First

Housing first is a philosophy that homelessness can be most efficiently ended by providing someone with access to safe, decent and affordable housing. Although an individual experiencing homelessness may benefit from supportive services such as mental health or substance abuse counseling, participation in these services is not a prerequisite to access housing or a condition of maintaining it. In fact, the stability that a housing unit provides bolsters a tenant’s ability to participate in these services.

The housing first philosophy focuses on simplifying the process of accessing housing through streamlining the application process and removing unnecessary documentation or site visits. It also ensures that supportive housing tenants are not subject to conditions of tenancy exceeding that of a normal leaseholder, including participation in treatment or other services. Research has demonstrated that this approach is effective in promoting housing stability, particularly among people who have been homeless for long periods of time and have serious psychiatric disabilities, substance use disorders and/or other disabilities.

Streamlining Access to Housing

Moving tenants into housing quickly is beneficial to all stakeholders in a supportive housing project.  Tenants gain housing as a stable platform, which they can use for health, recovery and personal growth.  Property managers and owners are able to fill units quickly and consistently. Service providers can more effectively work with clients who they can consistently locate and contact. In order to ensure that these benefits, and many others, can be achieved, the supportive housing should have an entrance process in which:

  • The eligibility criteria for the supportive housing meet the minimum that the funder(s) or landlord require (without additional criteria imposed).
  • Sobriety is not an entrance requirement.
  • Medication compliance is not an entrance requirement.
  • Agreement to participate in services is not an entrance requirement.
  • There is no minimum income requirement.
  • The application process for the supportive housing project is streamlined, clearly stated and separate from any assessment for services. It includes the minimum number of questions needed to determine tenant eligibility. Click here for a Sample Supportive Housing Application.
  • The housing application and screening processes are fully accessible to persons with disabilities. In addition, appropriate, reasonable accommodations and necessary supports are provided, as needed, during the application and screening processes.The housing application is separate from the service needs assessment and does not request detailed clinical information.
  • There is a timely and clearly stated process for the approval or denial of housing applications and appeals. There is an established system for staff to communicate with tenants during this process and to track and retain documentation. Click here to learn more about Tenant File Maintenance and Record Keeping and a Sample Applicant Appeal Procedure.
  • Tenants’ permission is obtained prior to sharing or seeking information regarding their application for housing. Click here for a Sample Consent to Release or Obtain Information Form.


For projects that are leasing or supporting tenants in leasing existing units or housing in the community that may be owned by landlords who are not members of the supportive housing team, housing management staff should: 

  • Have relationships with landlords who are willing to consider tenants who have poor credit, criminal backgrounds or prior evictions.
  • With tenant permission, assist tenants in advocating for themselves with landlords and explaining potential background issues.


Such landlord relationships and housing advocacy support can streamline the process of connecting tenants with housing in the community. Building Landlord Relationships will be outlined following the section on Cultural Competency in the Application Process.

Next: Cultural Competency in the Application Process

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