Monetary Sanctions and Housing Instability


47 percent of respondents with LFOs were experiencing housing insecurity at the time of the interview.

Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) can reduce household resources and lead to many forms of housing instability. Homelessness can also lead to entanglements with the criminal legal system, such as fine-only citations for public order and civility infractions that result in fines and fees. This article uses multiple data sources, including interviews with people with LFOs and court actors, courtroom observations from eight states, and nationally representative survey data to explore the housing instability nexus. The findings illustrate a cyclical relationship between housing hardship and criminal legal impoverishment. 

You can read the full text here.  

Key Findings:

  • With an average monthly income of $1,600 and the monthly housing costs averaging $660, the average respondent is classified as housing cost-burdened according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Although most respondents met income requirements, only 18 percent of respondents received any form of government housing assistance.
  • Those with LFOs who reported moving because of eviction, landlord actions, or missed a rent payment were three to five times higher than those without.
  • 32 percent of respondents with LFOs moved within the previous two years, relative to 18 percent of those without.
  • Only 13 percent of respondents with LFOs were homeowners.
  • Respondents identified credit as a barrier to homeownership and renting. 


  • Decriminalize homelessness by ending the incarceration of unhoused people for “acts of living” such as sleeping, eating, sitting, or panhandling in public spaces.
  • Expand housing subsidies.
Mary Pattillo, Erica Banks, Brian Sargent, and Daniel J . Boches
RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal Of The Social Sciences