Relocation Assistance Programs for Low-Income Families

By Amanda Lutz Updated March 12, 2024

Moving holds the promise of a fresh start, but the journey can be challenging for low-income families. Beyond typical moving logistics, low-income families often bear added emotional and financial burdens. Unexpected expenses may arise, such as storage costs or the need to take time off work. The financial strain can quickly become overwhelming, with the average cost of a move ranging from $4,200 to $12,100.

Local organizations and national charities offer low-income housing and relocation assistance programs that provide support for financially challenging moves. These programs can cover a significant portion of or sometimes the entire cost of a move. Grants offering partial or complete financial assistance are also available.

If you need moving assistance, this article will serve as a comprehensive guide to help kick-start your search. We consulted the following social policy and affordable housing experts to learn about moving resources and practical tips for saving money during a move.


Low-Income Moving Grants and Government Benefits

Relocations can be challenging for families since they require significant time and financial resources. “Professional moving services may not be affordable, and coordinating family and friends to help can be a struggle,” Leslie says.

The new location may also come with a higher cost of living. “Since the cost of living can vary significantly even within a small geographic area,” Leslie notes, “a family may be faced with higher costs for utilities, rent, property taxes, parking or commuting costs, and even necessities like groceries.”

Moving grants and government benefits can be viable options for low-income families. The following programs operate nationally and may be able to assist you in a relocation.

Administration for Community Living

The Administration for Community Living (ACL) grants financial assistance to states and organizations that offer support to older adults and individuals with disabilities. These groups provide various forms of assistance including subsidized housing and individual grants.

Qualifications: Beneficiaries must be older adults or people with disabilities to qualify.

How to apply: Applying to the ACL for financial assistance or support services as an individual isn’t possible since it only provides funding to organizations. You can instead refer to the benefit finder provided by USA.gov. This tool offers information on financial assistance and support services for individuals with disabilities.

Community Services Block Grants

The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds states, territories, and tribes as they administer services through community action agencies (CAAs) to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty. This allows local CAAs to support low-income families with moving assistance in several ways. These grants may be able to cover certain transportation expenses or security deposits for new housing. Resources are also available to connect families with affordable housing options and support services in their new communities.

Qualifications: All 50 states, Washington, D.C., U.S. territories, and recognized tribes are eligible to apply for CSBG funds.

How to apply: CSBG doesn’t offer grants directly to individuals. To find CAAs in your area, visit the resource page for the Office of Community Services (OCS) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

Emergency Solutions Grants

The Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program encompasses street outreach, emergency shelters, housing relocation, and short-term rental assistance. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds ESG to help people quickly regain housing stability after experiencing a housing crisis or homelessness.

Qualifications: ESG beneficiary eligibility is typically based on experiencing homelessness or being at risk of homelessness. Criteria may vary by location. Contact your local government agency responsible for ESG funds or your local HUD field office for more details on eligibility requirements in your jurisdiction.

How to apply: Reach out to your state or local government agency responsible for distributing ESG funds to understand application requirements. You can contact your local HUD field office for assistance. You’ll likely need to fill out an application form and provide evidence of your current housing crisis.

HUD Housing Assistance

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) helps low-income families by providing rental assistance through Section 8 vouchers, supporting housing initiatives, offering grants for community development, and enforcing fair housing laws to eliminate discrimination.

Qualifications: Eligibility for HUD housing assistance is primarily based on income. Families or individuals earning less than 50% of an area’s median income may qualify for HUD housing assistance. Other eligibility factors include citizenship status and background checks.

How to apply: Contact your local Public Housing Agency (PHA) to apply. You can contact your local HUD field office if you’re having trouble reaching your local PHA.

Individuals and Households Program

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) offers financial support through the Individuals and Households Program to those forced to relocate after a natural disaster.

This assistance includes funding for moving expenses, child care needs resulting from the catastrophe, disaster-related medical costs, home repairs, and temporary housing. A FEMA representative will assess the extent of the damage via home inspection to estimate the amount of assistance needed. FEMA also offers crisis counseling and other services to help families process the disaster and develop coping strategies.

“It’s common for such families to experience a deep sense of loss,” Robinson explains. Loss, especially of a home or a neighborhood, “always carries a heavy emotional toll.” Robinson notes that individuals experiencing the loss of a home will likely find it difficult to “keep up the cognitive work that is needed to survive daily,” including paying bills and tending to family members.

Qualifications: To check if your area qualifies for disaster assistance, enter your state or ZIP code on DisasterAssistance.gov. Document the damage to your home and keep receipts and paperwork as proof of damage.

How to apply: Call the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362, or use the FEMA mobile app to apply for assistance. The app provides emergency shelter information, weather alerts, and online registration. Create an account to track your application status and upload required documents.

Rural Housing Service

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Housing Service offers loans, grants, and loan guarantees for housing, community facilities, and essential services in rural areas. While it doesn’t provide direct assistance for moving expenses, some of its programs indirectly support low-income families by offering affordable housing options.

Qualifications: The Rural Housing Service supports individuals, families, and tribes in rural areas. Income limits primarily determine eligibility for housing assistance. Applicants must have low or moderate incomes— earnings can’t exceed 115% of the median household income. Farm laborers must submit proof of agricultural employment to be eligible for housing designated for them. The USDA may also consider citizenship and legal status.

How to apply: Contact your local area office of the Rural Housing Service.

VA Housing Assistance

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Housing Assistance program provides low-income veterans with housing services. In addition to low-interest home loans and refinancing options, the program offers financial support for transitional housing expenses.

Qualifications: VA Housing Assistance is only available to veterans or surviving spouses. Call your VA regional loan center at 877-827-3702 to inquire about eligibility.

How to apply: Visit the VA Housing Assistance website or contact the toll-free national call center for homeless veterans at 877-424-3838. The application process may require submitting proof of your veteran status, such as a DD214 form, and evidence of low-income status from recent tax returns or pay stubs. You’ll also need to request a certificate of eligibility (COE) through the eBenefits portal, by mail, or via a participating lender.


Organizations and Nonprofits With Moving Assistance

“Families can find it difficult to absorb the costs, in terms of time and financial resources, of searching for a new place to live and arranging for the move,” Leslie says, noting that this can place added stressors on both parents and children.

The following are national charitable organizations and nonprofit entities that extend support and assistance to low-income families who need moving help.

211

The hotline number 211 is a network that offers no grants or assistance. However, it connects low-income families with local charities and federal resources that provide financial aid to help cover expenses such as rent, mortgage, and utility bills.

Qualifications: Individuals can access assistance services in their area by making a confidential, toll-free call to 211 or by using the website. Eligibility criteria varies, so an operator will help to assess the qualifications of available assistance services.

How to apply: You can call 211 at any time. You’ll be asked questions about your current living condition, sources of income, and children or dependents. The 211 staff will help you find resources and direct you to available grants and projects.

Catholic Charities Relocation Services

Founded in 1910, Catholic Charities USA is a religious nonprofit group that seeks to alleviate poverty, prevent evictions, and address homelessness. It also provides stable housing programs to help individuals and families find secure living arrangements. Catholic Charities USA has established more than 38,000 permanent units for families.

Qualifications: Catholic Charities USA helps low-income or homeless individuals secure affordable housing and offers support services to individuals escaping domestic violence situations. The organization extends aid regardless of the individual’s religious affiliation.

How to apply: Contact your local Catholic Charities USA support center to apply for assistance. Local chapters are present in most states and you can find one through the organization’s branch locator tool.

Modest Needs

Founded in 2022, Modest Needs is a tax-exempt charity that provides short-term financial assistance to families living below the poverty line or suffering from financial hardships. It offers small emergency grants of up to $1,000. Individuals may receive funding to hire movers, rent a moving truck, or purchase packing supplies.

Qualifications: Individuals below the poverty line are eligible for assistance and must provide documentation of their financial situation. Individuals or families experiencing unforeseen events that require financial aid, such as emergency relocations, are also eligible. The grant amount will depend on your needs and available funding levels.

How to apply: To start the application process, Modest Needs recommends reading its frequently asked questions page before registering online. After logging into your account, click the “apply for help now” button at the bottom of the page to start your application. You’ll need to present your most recently filed tax return or the most recent bank statement for all of the adults living in your household. Include an honest description of the household’s current crisis and your necessity for assistance from Modest Needs.

The Salvation Army

With more than 1.7 million members and nearly 8,000 branches in the U.S. alone, The Salvation Army is one of the world’s largest charities. Its housing assistance program offers shelters, transitional housing, and long-term supportive housing for low-income seniors. The Salvation Army also provides aid through moving or relocation grants.

Qualifications: The Salvation Army provides various housing and relocation programs for low-income families and individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. Assistance varies according to type and location.

How to apply: Contact a local branch by searching by your ZIP code or town through the official website’s location tool. You can narrow down your search based on the services you’re looking for, and the website will generate addresses and contact information for locations near you.

Travelers Aid International

Travelers Aid International is an organization that provides support services to individuals in transit. These are people who are traveling and may find themselves in distress due to circumstances such as being stranded, facing emergencies, or lacking resources to continue their journeys.

The organization’s services are not limited to families but are available to any individual in need, regardless of their situation. It provides resources, counseling, and practical aid in the form of emergency shelter, access to nutritious meals, transport assistance, and connection to community resources.

Qualifications: Contact your local Travelers Aid member agency to qualify for help. Eligibility criteria are primarily based on the availability of funding, the location of the individual seeking assistance, and the needs of each case. The organization’s mission is to aid people in transit who are in distress. This encompasses a wide range of individuals, from families living on the streets to individuals escaping dangerous situations.

How to apply: Individuals can contact Travelers Aid to apply for assistance. The application process may vary depending on the location and type of assistance required.

Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA)

The Young Women’s Christian Association, or YWCA, is engaged in eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting social justice to strengthen communities. It offers moving and housing support, legal advocacy, medical advocacy, counseling, and child care services.

Qualifications: To qualify for support, contact your local YWCA branch to see if you meet the location’s requirements. YWCA’s services are not exclusively for women or Christian women; they are available to all individuals regardless of gender, religion, or background. The group’s mission is to support women and their families, but it operates inclusively and aims to serve any individual in need. You can use the online YWCA tool to search for a branch near you.

How to apply: Contact your local YWCA branch and inquire about its relocation assistance program. For immediate help, call the group’s national crisis hotline at 202-467-0801.


How to Budget and Save Money on a Move

Budgeting and saving money during a move requires a proactive approach, especially for low-income families facing unique challenges. Seeking out resources early, such as moving counselors and assistance programs, can make a big difference.

Robinson emphasizes the unpredictable nature of moving due to “powerful structural forces at play” that can complicate the process for low-income families. “Having these resources in place can help to provide a buffer against any setbacks they encounter along the way,” he says. This strategy prepares families for uncertainties ahead and provides them with the tools and support necessary to navigate the moving process.

Below are some tips to save money on your move:


Our Conclusion

It’s possible to facilitate a smoother move to your new home, even if you have limited financial resources. “Having a budget and asking for support from family and friends can be helpful,” Zuberi says.

In addition to leaning on personal networks, Zuberi mentions that “it may also be beneficial to search for support through organizations.” Many cities have social service organizations that offer assistance with rent, eviction prevention, and other housing-related issues. Taking the initiative to seek out these resources is often beneficial for low-income households.


Our Experts

Jeff Leslie is a clinical professor at the University of Chicago Law School. With more than two decades of experience, he serves as the director of clinical and experiential learning, overseeing clinical programs and leading the Housing Initiative Transactional Clinic. Leslie’s expertise lies in affordable housing, transactional lawyering, commercial real estate, and negotiations.

John N. Robinson III studies the racial underpinnings of money and markets, with emphasis on housing and credit policies. His award-winning work examines how the rise of finance is reshaping place-based inequalities within and around American cities. His current book project explores the ongoing rise of the affordable housing industry in the U.S. and its intersections with racial and economic inequality. A secondary project investigates the politics of race, punishment, and municipal debt in suburban areas. His work appears or is forthcoming in leading journals such as the American Journal of Sociology, Social Problems, Socio-Economic Review, Politics & Society, Law & Social Inquiry, Journal of Urban Affairs, and Housing Policy Debate and has earned recognition from the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), the Ford Foundation, the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, and the Paris Institute of Political Studies.

Dr. Anita Zuberi is an associate professor in the department of sociology at Duquesne University. Her research lies at the intersection of urban poverty, racial inequality, and social policy, with a particular focus on the role of housing policy in shaping the health and well-being of low-income households. Her research utilizes a mix of qualitative and quantitative methodological approaches, and she has partnered with local government agencies and community organizations in her work.