​​​​​​​The Urgent Need for Housing Solutions: How Universal Basic Income and Cash Transfers Can Make a Difference

David Ramirez
Published Jan 24, 2024

As the housing crisis in the United States continues to escalate, more and more Americans are struggling to afford stable housing. Homelessness is at record highs, and millions of eligible individuals are not receiving government housing assistance.

However, experimental programs like universal basic income (UBI) and temporary cash transfers have shown promise in helping individuals pay rent and secure permanent housing.

Let's explore the growing need for housing solutions and how UBI and cash transfers can play a crucial role in addressing this crisis.

The Importance of Housing Assistance

Only a fraction of eligible individuals receive the assistance they need, forcing many to allocate a substantial portion of their income towards housing expenses.

This is true even with access to side hustles and debt relief assistance

Experimental programs like THRIVE East of the River in Washington, DC, and a universal basic income program in San Francisco have shown that a significant number of recipients allocate their cash transfers towards housing and utilities.

Success of Cash Transfers in Housing Assistance

Studies indicate that cash transfers and temporary aid programs have helped families stay housed.

Recipients of the American Rescue Plan's expanded child-tax credit, who also received temporary housing aid, reported greater stability in their housing situations.

Furthermore, a Princeton sociologist emphasized that when it comes to budgeting, housing expenses take priority, as the risk of homelessness looms large.

The Need for Improved Government Efforts

While building more affordable housing is crucial, it is the responsibility of the government to improve its efforts to house those who cannot afford market-rate homes.

Unfortunately, government housing assistance programs, such as Housing Choice Vouchers, have not kept pace with rising rents and home prices.

The result is that the number of individuals in need of aid has soared, while government housing assistance for the poorest renters has dropped to its lowest levels in 25 years.

Piloting a New Approach

To overcome the challenges associated with traditional housing vouchers, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is considering piloting a direct cash transfer program for rent.

The proposed program aims to provide voucher-eligible individuals with monthly cash transfers, which can be compared to the effectiveness of traditional vouchers in ensuring stable housing.

Philadelphia is already experimenting with a similar program called PHLHousing Plus, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania.


Addressing the housing crisis in the United States requires a multi-faceted approach. While cash transfers and UBI programs have shown potential in helping individuals pay for housing, they must be complemented by efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing.

Trusting families to make wise financial decisions and expanding flexible cash transfer programs can provide more dignity and self-determination to those in need.

However, fully funding rental assistance programs without simultaneously addressing the shortage of affordable housing may have inflationary consequences.

It is crucial that government, organizations, and communities work together to find comprehensive and sustainable solutions to ensure access to safe and affordable housing for all.

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