Who We Are: We are a diverse group of thought leaders and practitioners who have committed our professional lives to preventing, reducing, and eradicating homelessness in the United States. We have initiated an ambitious effort to strengthen and expand our nation’s approach to eradicating homelessness, and we need your help to develop and actualize ideas to support this effort.
Using a Design Lab model, we recently engaged in a conversation aimed at generating deep and disruptive ideas to invigorate and transform the United States’ response to homelessness. Our goal was to articulate a broader vision for eradicating homelessness: one that builds upon current successes while also harnessing innovation to address the problem at its core. We approached the conversation ready to think outside the box, discussed “big picture” ideas not easily categorized due to their interconnectivity, and explored new ways of addressing some of the most difficult challenges associated with eradicating homelessness.
Our conversation was structured to examine the roots of social and racial inequality that drive homelessness and poverty in our nation. We explored numerous ideas relating to affordable housing, such as: the million vouchers requested by Evicted author Dr. Matthew Desmond, a new resource distribution mechanism for permanent supportive housing that blends health and housing dollars in a new block grant, and a return to better public housing. We considered a Health Care Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) model, such as that used to develop assisted living for upper middle income seniors, as well as providing living wage public infrastructure employment with housing opportunity. We discussed policies that could repair our nation’s aging infrastructure while providing millions of jobs for out-of-work Americans. We considered ideas to reform our criminal justice system, improving offender re-entry and reducing recidivism. As we move forward from this conversation, we will use these and other emerging ideas to inform conversations around the country, build momentum, broaden support for constructive change, and take action wherever possible.
Why We Came Together: While the United States has made clear and significant progress in eradicating homelessness for some individuals, changes to the policies and structures underlying our economic and social system are needed to prevent the continued loss of housing by many others. Even with the myriad of current public and private investments aimed at addressing homelessness, many cities continue to experience a “state of emergency.” Many renters now pay more than 50% of their income toward housing, live in overcrowded units, and lack necessities. There is a shortage of more than 7 million affordable housing units for the nation’s 10 million extremely low income renter households. Developing and pursuing a vision to address the causes of homelessness is a daunting task that requires collective effort.
Last year, overall homelessness in the United States fell slightly, but increased in 15 states and the District of Columbia (up 14.4%) compared to the previous year. On any given night, approximately 550,000 individuals in the United States experience homelessness. Among those individuals, more than 77,000 are chronically homeless, more than 39,000 are veterans, and more than 35,000 are unaccompanied children and youth. Too many individuals and families in the United States currently live without adequate shelter.
Homelessness is not an isolated problem — it is related to, and a symptom of, many other economic and social challenges. It is a product of the deficit of affordable housing in this country and the lack of employment opportunity at wage levels to cover basic needs. Its numbers are fed by health and addiction issues, the criminal justice system, veterans returning stateside, and crises in our families, including domestic violence and runaway youth. More than one-fifth of American children live in poverty, foreshadowing continuing and deepening problems over the course of their lives if we fail to address this fundamental inequity. And, running through all these issues is the reality that African-Americans represent a disproportionately high percentage of the homeless population. While African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 40% of the sheltered homeless population. To solve the problem of homelessness, we must craft and move forward policies to remedy the economic and social contributors.
Snapshots Of Need:
Our Vision: We believe all people have the right to a decent life. To honor that right for all residents, our national culture must undergo a paradigm shift: from a focus on the individual to a focus on community. To engender this shift, we must build and preserve:
We recognize and affirm that every one of these pillars is crucial, and work is needed on each one. This group determined that it should focus most of its efforts on the creation of a New American Housing Policy as a primary gateway to achieving our vision of a universal right to a decent life.
A New American Housing Policy: Housing is key to a decent life as we envision it, and a new national housing policy is crucial to ensuring everyone has a home in which to live. The government must make it possible for sufficient housing stock to exist while preventing discriminatory housing practices. The nation’s housing supply must become more responsive to changes in demand, developers must be incentivized to build more affordable housing units, rental markets must foster housing stability, and communities must explore creative ideas that challenge our traditional conception of “housing,” as well as the traditional view of homeownership as the primary path to asset building for most Americans.
Regardless of the package of directives that are ultimately included in the New American Housing Policy, the overall goal is to address the economic, political, and social contributors to homelessness at the root levels. We hope this vision represents the first steps in a nationwide effort to strengthen our approach to homelessness, and we hope you will join us in this journey. Through our collective efforts and creative thinking, we can make our vision of preventing homelessness by 2036 a reality.We welcome your support for this movement and any ideas you may be able to offer to this effort. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to working with you on this important project.
The New American Housing Policy – Initial Program Components:
- Ensure Housing Vouchers Are Available to People Who Need Rental Assistance – Based on an idea suggested by Dr. Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, this proposal would expand the nation’s current Housing Choice Voucher program to cover all renting households that earn below the 30th percentile of their area’s median income (AMI). Currently, public housing authorities (PHAs) must provide 75% of their vouchers to applicants whose incomes do not exceed 30% of the AMI. Essentially, this change would convert rental assistance to an open access program available to all qualifying households rather than a benefit only available to some households.
- Invest in Developing the Housing Today’s America Needs – To develop the housing today’s America needs, our nation may need to reassess its meaning of “housing” and explore creative ideas like tiny homes, half houses, and dorm-style living arrangements. Additionally, the United States may need to reinvent and reinvest in public housing and create more paths to homeownership. To create funding for these investments, Congress may need to cap or eliminate the mortgage interest tax deduction and use that money to fund new public housing or affordable housing programs. Congress could reestablish the Section 8 New Construction and Substantial Rehabilitation programs to build new housing and upgrade existing private housing stock. And, a renter’s tax credit could provide financial support and housing stability to individuals who cannot afford to buy a home.
- Stable Housing Supports Improved Health Care – Health care systems or individual stakeholders (e.g., hospitals, health plans) would invest in new affordable housing construction, to be entirely or primarily set aside to house people exiting homelessness for whom a lack of stable housing is causing or contributing to health conditions. The investment would not be a charitable contribution, but a real estate purchase. At least a portion of the units created would be set aside for Permanent Supportive Housing.
- Permanent Funding for Housing Linked to Health Care Services and Treatment – To fund the Housing as Health Care Intervention idea, the United States may need to establish a Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) Block Grant or support the development of Healthcare Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). A PSH Block Grant would provide funding to support a “proven solution to chronic homelessness,” help increase housing stability for more than 1 million individuals and families, and improve public health while potentially lowering the costs associated with homelessness. Healthcare REITs would likely rely on a partnership between nonprofit organizations and/or philanthropic entities who are pooling funds together to then purchase/renovate properties to be used for PSH.
- Renewed Infrastructure Repair and Development Housing & Jobs Program – This proposal aims to reduce unemployment and homelessness while making needed repairs to our nation’s infrastructure. Workers would earn hourly rates above minimum wage and be provided with on-site affordable housing linked with additional services. For this program to benefit homeless and extremely low-income individuals, incentives could be used to encourage employers to hire homeless and extremely low-income individuals with nonviolent criminal records or histories of substance abuse issues.
- Re-Entry Planning for Housing and Residential Re-Entry Centers for Nonviolent Offenders – More than 10% of individuals released from incarceration face homelessness upon reentry – a percentage that could be as high as 50% in large, urban areas. Furthermore, nearly 50,000 people a year enter shelters directly after release from correctional facilities. To prevent released offenders from becoming homeless, a “reentry coordinator” (RC) from a community-based agency could be assigned to incarcerated individuals prior to their release. The RC could work in tandem with existing jail/prison service teams to formulate a multidisciplinary, integrated service plan for the individual prior to their re-entry into the community. Additionally, a national network of Residential Reentry Centers (RRCs) could house individuals prior to or immediately after their release. Existing RRCs provide treatment programs, reentry preparation, and job training. RCs and RRCs could reduce recidivism rates, and reduce the number of individuals who exit prison and enter homelessness.