As the gap between increasing housing costs and stagnant incomes widens, the end result is that more people become homeless.
Housing Affordability and Homelessness
The nation is currently facing one of the most severe affordable housing crises in history. Not surprisingly, those living in poverty are the most significantly affected.
In the 1970s, communities had plenty of affordable housing. That meant that when a family or individual experienced a crisis and lost housing, they could quickly find another place to live. But by the mid-1980s, the supply of low-cost housing had shrunk significantly. Since then, rents have continued to rise and lower-income people in particular have experienced slow or stagnant wage growth.
Today, 8 million extremely low-income households pay at least half of their income toward housing, putting them at risk of housing instability and homelessness.
The Solution to Homelessness: Housing
The solution to homelessness is straightforward: housing. By connecting people experiencing homelessness to housing and services, they have a platform from which they can address other areas that may have contributed to their homelessness — such as employment, health, and substance abuse.
Homeless Assistance Programs
There are two homelessness-focused housing models that have been demonstrated to effectively end homelessness. They are:
- Permanent supportive housing: Permanent supportive housing pairs long-term rental assistance with supportive services. It is targeted to individuals and families with chronic illnesses, disabilities, mental health issues, or substance use disorders who have experienced long-term or repeated homelessness.
- Rapid re-housing: Rapid re-housing provides short-term rental assistance and services. The goals are to help people obtain housing quickly, increase self-sufficiency, and stay housed.
Public Housing and Voucher Programs
Administered by HUD, public housing and voucher programs provide decent and safe affordable housing for low-income people and play a critical role in reducing homelessness.
- Housing Choice Voucher Program (commonly known as “Section 8“) has become the dominant form of federal housing assistance. The program, which provides vouchers to low-income households to help them pay for housing in the private market, has been found to sharply reduce homelessness.
- Public housing is federally-funded housing that is rented at subsidized rates to eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.
While both public housing and housing vouchers are proven to end homelessness, only one in four households that are eligible for such assistance receive it due to lack of funding.
Tackling the Affordable Housing Crisis
In many places across America, there is simply not enough available affordable housing. Without this housing stock, many homeless Americans are likely to continue to cycle in and out of homelessness.
The priority now must be to expand the supply of affordable housing. To do this, there is a need to increase HUD’s ability to serve and house low-income individuals.
Updated January 2019.