Archive for April, 2011

29th April
written by naehblog

It’s a mixed bag this week, guys.

The good news is that issues like veteran homelessness, affordable housing and other issues got some major press this week. The bad news is, well, the news is bad.

Earlier this week, Washington Post reporter Dina ElBoghdady covered the Harvard University study that we blogged about on Wednesday. The study found that in 2009, nearly half of all renters were moderately cost burdened and over a quarter were severely housing cost burdened (remember how we talked about that in The State of Homelessness?). The report highlights the housing “affordability crisis” – meaning that the supply of affordable housing is not keeping pace with demand.

Dennis Cauchon of USA Today reported that more Americans than ever are relying on some sort of government aid. He writes, “A record 18.3% of the nation’s total personal income was a payment from the government for Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment benefits and other programs in 2010.” While it’s hardly a surprise that more and more Americans are still struggling to get back on their financial feet, the report sheds much needed light on the extent of the suffering and works to – we hope! – dispel some of the stereotypes about people receiving financial assistance.

And just today, syndicated New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about how he spent some time at of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Brooks had some concerns about the “gap between the neatness of [homelessness] data on a bar graph and the messy reality of the street,” but he concludes that we’re doing important work to end veteran homelessness.

As people attuned to poverty and homelessness, it’s hardly a surprise that the need out there is great and the task, quite daunting – as the major stories these week clearly show.

Luckily, you can make a difference. We’re asking everyone to become an advocate and help end homelessness! Let us know you’re interested in helping out using this form and keep an eye on our blog to learn about our campaigns (like our new McKinney-Vento campaign!). We can end homelessness together; you can  make the difference.

28th April
written by naehblog

Today, we’re proud and excited to launch our FY 2012 McKinney-Vento Campaign!

The McKinney Vento programs may have received a small increase in the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget, but this small increase is simply not enough – especially in a time when so many Americans are still struggling to get back on their financial feet.

What: McKinney-Vento FY 2012 Campaign
When: Starting Today!
Where: In your community
How: Check out the campaign web page and start contacting your members of Congress!

Why: The McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance programs are the federal government’s largest investment and homeless assistance.

In 2009, Congress passed theHEARTH Act. The HEARTH Act will update and streamline the McKinney-Vento programs and makes them much better, focusing on prevention, rapid re-housing, and all the other strategies that we know end homelessness. We need a one-time big boost in funding to implement the changes.

We didn’t get that big boost in FY 2011 – we have to get it in FY 2012. We are asking Congress to fund McKinney-Vento programs at $2.4 billion in FY 2012.

If need more information, you’re interested in getting involved, or decide to contact your Members of Congress, just shoot us a quick email to let us know!

27th April
written by Pete Witte

Today’s guest post comes to us from Pete Witte, research associate at the Alliance.

I wasn’t surprised while reading the recent report, America’s Rental Housing: Meeting Challenges, Building on Opportunities, by the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) of Harvard University. Among other things, the paper points out that there is a substantial—and growing—gap between the number of very low-income renters and available affordable rental units. But though the report is unsurprising, it’s disconcerting nonetheless.

In the State of Homelessness, we found that from 2008 to 2009, the number of poor, severely housing cost burdened renter households increased by 9 percent to nearly 5.9 million households nationally (severe housing cost burden = households paying 50 percent of their monthly income or more on rent). Families are finding it difficult to afford rents and the recent JCHS paper points out that, in part, rents are rising due to a lack of supply and increasing demand.

These factors reveal that there are more and more people at increased risk of homelessness When households pay such a great majority of their monthly income on rent (50 percent or more, in the case of severely housing cost burdened households), they have little money left over for other expenses, including transportation, healthcare, education, and food. The scarcity of resources means that that any unforeseen financial hurdle – a large bill, car breakdown, hospitalization – could jeopardize the household’s housing situation.

The JCHS paper also predicts that “Given the long lead times needed to develop new multifamily housing, a sharp increase in demand could quickly reduce vacancy rates and put upward pressure on rents.” The authors call the growing problem an “affordability crisis.”

And I agree.

As the U.S. population continues to grow, so will the number of renter households. JCHS estimates that growth of renter households could number as many as 470,000 annually. How many of these new renter households will be severely housing cost burdened? Will the affordable housing supply gap continue to grow? How many people will find themselves doubled up or in shelters because they can’t find or keep housing that they can afford?

Solving the problem of creating more affordable housing is not an easy one. I can tell you that from my past experiences, when I worked as an urban planner, the question of how to increase the level of affordable units in any particular community is always challenging to answer.

JCHS mentions that one solution is through policy. Public policy can encourage the expansion of affordable housing stock by using tax and regulation breaks to encourage investments in affordable housing. Providing incentives for including affordable units in new development is a practice that a number of communities (for example, locally in Montgomery County, Maryland), and I think this is one way to help keep the gap from growing.

Policymakers could also further invest in housing vouchers. JCHS points out that only 1 in 4 of the lowest-income renters eligible for housing assistance are provided federally assisted housing. Clearly, providing financial assistance in the form of vouchers would go a long way toward closing the affordability gap. And since people with vouchers do not become homeless, we know that vouchers also will also help end homelessness.(The Alliance produced an eviction prevention series highlighting the utility of vouchers earlier this month.)

We want to know what’s happening in the field! Are you experiencing a rise in rental prices? Do you think housing vouchers can make a difference? Are you concerned with the growing dearth of housing affordable to low-income people and families? Let us know in the comments.

25th April
written by naehblog

Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released national data showing that the number of homeless people was essentially unchanged from 2009 to 2010.

The number, based on counts conducted by localities and states across the nation in January 2010 (called point-in-time counts), increased one percent, rising from 643,067 to 649,879. There was a three percent increase in the number of homeless people who were unsheltered and a 1.5 percent increase among families experiencing homelessness. Chronic homelessness declined by 1 percent, continuing a downward trend begun in 2005.

The 2010 PIT counts were the first to reflect the impact of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), the $1.5 billion stimulus-funded program aimed at curbing homelessness resulting from the recession. Housing inventory data released in conjunction with the PIT counts showed that, at the time of the 2010 PIT counts, the stimulus program was funding 19,842 homeless assistance beds.

In 2009, the Alliance projected that without effective intervention, homelessness would increase dramatically as a result of the recession. These numbers show that our investment in homelessness prevention and housing-based strategies averted what could have been an alarming increase in the number of Americans experiencing homelessness, according the to Alliance.

Still, the recessions’ full impact on homelessness has yet to be seen. In 2010 the Alliance report The State of Homelessness in America noted that certain key economic factors associated with homelessness were on the rise. These included the number of poor households doubling up, unemployment, and severe housing cost burden. Homelessness is a lagging indicator of economic tides and although the HPRP funds will be available to communities for another year, upward pressures on homelessness will also continue.

To access the 2010 HUD PIT counts data, please visit their website (PDF). You can look up state-by-state numbers here.

You can also find our press release on our website.

Image courtesy of Jenny Leigh.

22nd April
written by Anna Blasco

The big news first: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported today that the number of people experiencing homelessness increased one percent homelessness from 2009 to 2010. For more in-depth information on this report, check out our website.

The Alliance estimated, back in 2009, that homelessness would increase dramatically as a result of the recession without effective interventions – interventions like the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), a stimulus-funded program aimed at curbing homelessness resulting from the recession, as well as community efforts to adopt housing-focused strategies and homelessness prevention methods.

But we’re not out of the woods yet. As Nan says in the press release, diminishing state, local, and federal resources keep people at0risk of homelessness. But this is shaping up to be an interesting debate about how best to use these limited resources.

In other news: The Times Free Press in Chattanooga, TN finds that investing in housing and supportive services for people with metal illness keeps people out of jail and saves money on costly and unnecessary stinks in jail.

The Philadelphia Tribune looks at cuts to housing programs for people with HIV/AIDS.

The Arizona Republic reports that cuts to a cash-assistance program for very low-income families, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, could end up costing the state more when these families find themselves on the street and in need of more costly services.

There are communities who have already decided that investing in people before they become homeless is a cost effect solution. The Telegram in Worchester, Massachusetts, writes:

“Initiatives like the state’s diversion program, that prevent homelessness rather than wait for it to happen, contribute to the encouraging result that homelessness in Worcester County has decreased by nearly 7 percent despite a time of high unemployment and housing foreclosures and a tough economy.”

Finally, the Washington Post turned its lenses to another group feeling the burden of tight budgets – those responsible for doling out these limited and continually shrinking resources.

Comments Off
21st April
written by Catherine An

Thanks to all of you guys who took the time to fill out our survey on advocacy! We are inspired not only by your participation in the survey but your willingness to get involved in ending homelessness!

Keep it up!M If you’re still interested in helping end homelessness, let us know!
Fill out this five question survey with your information – and we’ll get to you right away!

FYI: Here are some of the results from the advocacy survey:

  • Of the 84 of you who took the survey, a solid 80 – or 95 percent – of you follow us on social networks (how else you might’ve found this survey we’ll never know).
  • 90 percent of you are interested in taking advocacy actions and 50 percent of you already have taken advocacy actions for the Alliance this calendar year.
  • Most of you, 72 percent, are interested in online actions but some of you are interested in things that require a little more: making a phone call, organizing a watch party, hosting a legislator, making a Capitol Hill visit!
  • A solid 96 percent of you would be interested in a Alliance advocacy Facebook group!

Again, we can’t make any of this happen without you – your members of Congress need you! They need you to tell them what you think and what’s important to you. Take the next step in ending homelessness and contact us.

20th April
written by Catherine An

In The State of Homelessness report, Alliance research staff examined some of the economic indicators of homelessness, including severe housing cost burden, real income, unemployment, and foreclosure.

A report authored by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) – called Dark Before the Storm echoes some of the findings of The State of Homelessness report, specifically as it pertains to severe housing cost burden.

Using the Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) data, made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), researchers at the NLIHC examine housing affordability for low-income (LI), very low-income (VLI) and extremely low-income (ELI) renters. What they find is that, even before the recession began, these low income populations were experiencing a pronounced shortage of affordable housing only exacerbated by the recession.

Some of the report’s key findings:

  • 63 percent of ELI renters and 28 percent of VLI renters paid more than half their monthly income on rent and utilities (paying more than half of monthly income on rent is characterized as “severe housing cost burden”).
  • In ten states, 65 percent or more of ELI renters experienced severe housing cost burden.
  • The West was the most difficult region for ELI renters to find affordable housing; 10 of the 13 states in the West had fewer than 35 affordable and available units for every 100 ELI renter households.

The report also suggests that housing affordability problems climbed the income ladder in the years before the recession, affecting VLI and low-income households at higher-than-usual rates in addition to ELI renters more commonly affected by housing unaffordability.

People experiencing severe housing cost burden or other housing problems are at increased risk of experiencing homelessness. When such a significant proportion of monthly income is dedicated to rent, there are few resources left for transportation, health care, education, and other necessities. Moreover, such a scarcity of resources leaves people with few options should they have unexpected financial obstacles.

The solution is more available, affordable housing. These economic trends suggest that more people have become low income renters and the demand for affordable rental housing will continue to rise. There is, however, no indication that the supply of long term affordable rental housing will meet this rising demand…”, according to NLIHC.

As colleagues in the homeless assistance community, we agree with our friends at NLIHC. If homelessness is the result of a lack of affordable, permanent housing, the solution to homelessness is the procurement of affordable, permanent housing (it sounds obvious but often isn’t).

You can find the full NLIHC report, The Dark Before the Storm one their website and you can find our own State of Homelessness report on our website along with accompanying tools and maps.

Let us know: do you know people struggling to afford stable housing? Are rents rising in your community? Do you think it’s time for a concerted, national investment in affordable housing? We want to hear from you!

19th April
written by Catherine An

A recent report commissioned by the Center for Housing Policy finds that low-income families move much more frequently than the general population. These moves often have to do with the family’s financial status, caused by foreclosure and eviction, among other catalysts.

The report specifically investigates the ways that such mobility impacts children in these families. It finds that children in “hyper-mobile families” – families that move very often – experience negative outcomes including high absenteeism from schools, neighborhood problems, and lower educational development.

Among the conclusions drawn in report is the importance of affordable housing for children and families. Access to affordable housing can reduce the incidence of housing mobility and, in turn, foster housing stability and developmental growth for children.

This report is the first in a series to be release by the National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy.

18th April
written by naehblog

After a long and contentious process, Congress has finally passed a budget for fiscal year 2011. HUD’s homeless assistance grants, will receive a $40 million increase, which is a much smaller increase than we were hoping for, but not as bad as some of the worst-case scenarios that were possible. What does that mean for HEARTH Act implementation?

The short answer is that it means new funding for prevention and rapid re-housing programs, but little to implement changes to the Continuum of Care program.

While the overall increase was $40 million, Congress chose to increase funding for the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) by $65 million. The HEARTH Act changes the ESG program to include both the traditional shelter activities, which ESG has always funded, and also the prevention and rapid re-housing activities of HPRP. The $65 million increase will go almost entirely to prevention and rapid re-housing. For most jurisdictions receiving ESG, this will mean an increase of about 35 percent. While it will certainly not replace all of the funding provided by HPRP, it will help sustain some of these programs.

For the Continuum of Care program, things are more complicated. The HEARTH Act combines the Supportive Housing Program, Shelter Plus Care, and Moderate Rehabilitation/Single Room Occupancy programs into a single Continuum of Care program that still funds all of the eligible activities of the previous programs. The amount provided by Congress is enough to fund all renewals, but little will be left for new projects or to implement many of the HEARTH Act’s other changes, and HUD will have to make some hard decisions.

For the first time in many years, the focus will not be on new CoC projects. Instead it will be on setting up ESG to be a regular source of funding for prevention and rapid re-housing, and on deciding whether and how to reallocate CoC resources to higher priority activities.

For more information about the federal budget and it’s impact on homeless assistance programs, please see other blogposts or check out our website.

15th April
written by Anna Blasco

The biggest news item this week occurred when debate over the federal budget finally ended on Thursday when Congress passed the spending bill that cut $38 billion from FY 2011. (Stay tuned, on Monday we will discuss the bill in greater depth.)

Throughout the debate process one thing remained clear to us at the Alliance – homelessness advocates will have their voices heard.

Cathy ten Broeke from the Office to End Homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County composed a powerful argument for why ending homelessness is not only the right thing to do, but also the fiscally responsible thing to do.

Another excellent opinion piece was authored this week by Former Sen. Tom Daschle and the Hon. Linda Hall Daschle. The Daschle’s wrote about the strides that N Street Village – where Alliance staff members volunteer from time to time – have made toward ending homelessness, in particular, N Street’s successful housing model that integrates housing and health services for women.

On the topic of women, there was an NPR story about a report by Wider Opportunities for Women that found the minimum income workers need to attain basic economic security is about three times more than the federal poverty line. What was the biggest expense among the majority of people studied? Unsurprisingly, housing and utilities.

Finally, a few other stories of note:

  • Results from the 2011 point in time counts from Metropolitan Washington, D.C. are out. Overall, there were 11,988 homeless people, up from 11,774 last year. Nearly a third were children and 5,315 were in families, an increase from 4,995 last year.
  • Can foundations end homelessness? The organization Funders Together says yes, but with a smart approach that focuses on systems change rather than managing homelessness.
  • Have you been helped by a federal homelessness assistance program? Half in Ten and the Coalition on Human Needs wants to hear your story. For the record, we love this video from veteran Michael Starnes about the HUD-VASH program.
  • Finally, HPRP is making a difference for 102 people in San Diego who recently moved into long-term housing.

Did we miss anything important? Let us know in the comments!

Image courtesy of Jon Bradley Photography