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The main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find housing they can afford.


Many factors contribute to homelessness,

But the main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find housing they can afford.

Runaway rent increases are far outpacing the slow, stagnant growth in wages, and the widening distance between the two is causing a major decrease in the availability of affordable housing.

According to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, the number of renters who dedicated at least half of their income toward housing hit a record 11 million people in 2014.

Last year, the nation saw its biggest surge of new renters in history, according to the report, bringing the number of people living in rental units to around 110 million (or about 36 percent of households). That means more affluent renters are staying in the rental market longer and driving up the demand for housing.

Consider, too, that the United States is losing approximately 125,000 affordable rental units every year, and it seems inevitable that many people will experience a housing crisis

The Rise of the Housing Affordability Gap

Homelessness hasn’t always been the issue it is today. Nationwide, the rate of homelessness didn’t start to rise until the 1980s. Before then, when a family or individual experienced a crisis and lost their housing, they could quickly find another place to live. Communities had plenty of affordable rental housing, and homelessness was predominantly an issue among single adults.

Other pivotal factors driving the increase in homelessness since then include:

  • An increase in foreclosures
  • Wages and public assistance out of sync with rising housing costs
  • Higher cost of living
  • Rising debt, in part as a result of job loss and underemployment
  • The closing of state psychiatric institutions and the absence of sufficient community-based housing and services

The Income Inequality Factor

During the ’80s, the income gap began to widen. Today, housing affordability and homelessness tend to be more prevalent in communities with higher levels of income inequality. This impacts local housing markets by driving up rents, making even the most modest of homes and apartments out of reach for many.

While the number of low-income households increased 18 percent between 2007 and 2013, funding for the largest U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs remain below 2008 levels.