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Very low income households may struggle to find affordable housing, but they have more assistance options than people hovering above the poverty threshold, but still financially strapped, who may not qualify for housing assistance, says Fast Company's Eillie Anzilotti.

Anzilotti says that this group may benefit from "something like a flexible subsidy program, through which a family receives a stipend, distributed over the course of a year, that they can use to offset rent payments in difficult months, but save or use for other expenses in months when their rent feels more affordable."

A new program in D.C. plans to test the theory:

The District of Columbia Department of Human Services is beginning a pilot program of this type of subsidy this year, called D.C. Flex. To qualify for the annual stipend of $7,200 for up to four years, families must make around 30% of D.C.’s median annual income, be employed, have a valid lease in D.C., and have either applied for or received emergency housing assistance in the past. While the income requirement is similar to that which would qualify a family to receive a Section 8 subsidy, only around 25% of families who qualify for federal housing assistance receive it, and the point of D.C. Flex is to alleviate rent burdens for people whose income fluctuates over the course of a year, rather than people who live in consistent poverty.

Over the course of the four-year program, DHS will allocate around $1 million annually to around 120 families. At the end of every year, recipients will be able to withdraw up to $500 that they didn’t use for other expenses; by the end of the four years, they can access anything left over from the $28,800 total that they receive for the program. In short: Even if a household doesn’t use the entire subsidy on rent, they will receive the full sum of the subsidy. The goal of the program is to stabilize low-income families enough so that they never struggle to pay rent–which can lead to eviction and other negative outcomes–but can still use the money in a fairly unstructured way.

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