Screening for Housing Instability 

Indicators of housing instability often overlap. 

Housing issues are complex—but there are often simple modifications to programs and policies that will facilitate the adaptation of a housing interventions framework into mainstream systems and community-based services at work in our communities today. 

Following are suggestions for enhancing existing assessment tools or developing new tools.  

Adapt Existing Family Assessment tools

There are many different types of specific and comprehensive assessment tools to address a full continuum of human needs. Consideration should be given to expanding use of existing tools within a specific services system or organization – by adding new questions relevant to the indicators of housing instability most prevalent in a community, a particular services delivery system, or a target population.   

Enhance Current Housing Assessment Tools

Questions addressing housing conditions and housing stability are already components of family self-sufficiency assessments widely utilized by child and family services programs. 

Families “in crisis” in the Housing Stability category are often eligible for homeless assistance, including homeless prevention and rapid rehousing programs. Families identified as “at risk” would generally be ineligible and become the primary recipients of early housing intervention services.

Develop New  Housing Assessment Tools 

A response to locally conducted research could include the redesign of a current family assessment tool that integrates findings on the types of housing instability most prevalent and most applicable to the target population.

In many cases, the development of a new housing-focused assessment to complement existing assessment tools will be indicated. 

Another approach would include the development of a screening tool with specific housing questions that relate to impacts of targeted research findings on impacts on a specific services delivery system.

Housing questions might include some or all of the following: 


What Are The Household’s Primary Housing Concerns?

Concerns might include extreme overcrowding; conflicts with other residents; temporary status of the housing; inability to pay rent or rent in arrears; eviction pending; and other issues related to sharing housing with relatives or friends. The concerns might be related to physical conditions, including mold, bedbugs, and rodents. Often housing issues overlap: overcrowding in substandard housing conditions shared with people to whom you are not related.

Who Else Is Living There? 

  • How many people ages 18 and over live in the family’s current housing? Are they related? 
  • How many children/youth ages 0-18 are living in the current housing?  Are they related? 
  • How many rooms are in the current housing? How many bathrooms and bedrooms? Is the main room used as a bedroom? 
  • Are rooms or beds in the current housing rented to unrelated others? Are kitchens/bath shared?  


  • living long-term with relatives or friends?
  • living short-term with relatives or friends?
  • renting a single room in an apartment unit or house in which  kitchen & bath are shared with unrelated others?
  • renting beds in a single room with unrelated others and sharing a kitchen and bath?
  • living in hotels or motels on own funds?
  • living in a garage or other structure illegally converted to a rental unit?
  • living in a rented room in an apartment or house and sharing kitchen and bath?
  • moving around with no regular place to sleep at night?


Research shows potential health impacts from the deterioration or improper maintenance of a rental unit. Insect and rodent infestations are common in poorly maintained rental properties. Lead-based paint toxins from peeling paint/deteriorated, crumbling, or loose plaster in older buildings are also of concern. Additional health hazards include dampness or visible mold growth. Lack of hot and cold running water to plumbing fixtures or lack of adequate heating.