4th May
written by Catherine An

Occasionally, we like to make a little shout out.

Social Impact Research has recently published a series of reports on chronic homelessness.

The series is directed towards donors, discussing the impact of investing in ending chronic homelessness. The anchor brief goes over major facts, statistics, definitions, and an overview of the work done thus far to end chronic homelessness. There’s also a brief summary of the Housing First approach, a concept that the Alliance has long championed.

The series includes a Guide to Giving – advice to donors about how best to determine which organization might fit their giving goals. You can access the guide online.

Andrew Ofstehage, fellow at Social Impact Research and the lead researcher on these reports, will host a call for all interested participants during which he’ll go over the findings of the research and take caller questions. The call is slated for Wednesday, May 11.

For more information about the call and to participate, please email Tania Green.

3rd May
written by Catherine An

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released the second study of a three-part series evaluating the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program. FSS is a program meant to help residents of public housing who are also participants in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program – sometimes called the Section 8 Program – become self-sufficient.

The current study examined programmatic features and family characteristics that appear to influence the success of families participating in FSS.

An FSS program basically works like this:

  • You are a family using a Section 8 voucher. This means that you pay 30 percent of your monthly income toward your rent; the federal government kicks in whatever else you need.
  • The FSS program you’re in helps you gain the skills to make more money through supportive services and case management.
  • As you make more money, instead of contributing the any additional income toward rent (up to 1/3 of your monthly income), the FSS program puts that money in an interest-earning escrow account.
  • When you graduate from the FSS program, you get all that savings.

There are caveats, of course.

  • All families volunteering for the FSS program have to sign a 5- year Contract of Participation (COP) which basically stipulates that they will engage in the program, follow all the rules, take all the steps, etc.
  • People who exit the program before graduating forfeit the savings in their escrow account.

So at the end of the 4-year study period:

  • 41 participants (or 24 percent of the tracking group) graduated from the FSS program and received their escrow,
  • 63 participants (or 37 percent of the tracking group) left the program before graduation, forfeiting their escrow,
  • 66 participants (39 percent of the tracking group) were still enrolled in the FSS program.

The graduates of the program did tend to have certain characteristics that distinguished them from their exiter counterparts. According to the report, a higher proportion of graduates were a) employed at the beginning of the tracking and more likely to stay employed, b) made more money and were more likely to increase their earnings during their time in the FSS program, c) more educated than their exiter counterparts, d) spent more time in the program – about four months longer.

Interested? Want to read more? Check out the report here and learn more about the FSS program on the HUD website.

Photo courtesy of Childrens Book Review.

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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.

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.

4th April
written by naehblog

Today’s post comes from the Director of the Homelessness Research Institute, Bill Sermons.

As a researcher, my work can be boiled down to a combination of sharing what I know and learning new things. My time at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2011 Annual Housing Policy Conference last week was a excellent chance to do a little of both.

On the sharing side, I gave a presentation in a workshop on Monday entitled, What Do We Know About Homelessness. There, I was able to share many of the findings of HRI’s most recent major publication, The State of Homelessness in America. When asked by an audience member preparing for last Wednesday’s lobby day for a particular finding that congressional leaders might find compelling, I pointed to the portion of The State of Homelessness that illustrates the high odds of experiencing homelessness faced by young adults aging out of foster care (1 in 6 annually), doubled up individuals and families (1 in 10 annually), and people released from jail or prison (1 in 11 annually).

On Tuesday, it was my time to learn something new. I attended a presentation by Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba of the Children’s Health Watch given during the Connecting Housing to Food Access and Children’s Health Issues workshop. She presented on a new study of the negative impacts on health and food security of being behind on rent. Some of the results were not that surprising. They found, for example, that stably housed families are better off than either homeless families or families behind on rent in terms of health and food security. However, I was surprised to learn that the families behind on rent were considerably more likely than homeless families to experience food insecurity and to make trade-offs to pay medical bills or to forego health care. While I was fully aware that high rent burdens place families at risk of homelessness, this result highlights the health and well being toll faced by cost-burdened families.

For more information, please visit the website.

4th April
written by Catherine An

We’re so delighted to release the latest in our Community Snapshot series: Fairfax-Falls Church!

Our research team has been working with colleagues in Fairfax County to evaluate their progress toward ending homelessness asking, “Where are the numbers going? What strategies and practices have been implemented? How have they affected the community? What should we look toward next?”

And the news is great! Thanks to an emphasis on permanent housing, the creation of a centralized intake system, and their commitment to their ten year plan to end homelessness, the Fairfax-Falls Church community reduced homelessness.

In sum: Overall homelessness decreased by 11 percent between 2009 and 2010 to 1,544 people. Family homelessness decreased by 16 percent between 2009 and 2010 to 892 people—the lowest level ever documented in the community.

To check out the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Snapshot – as well as our other snapshots highlighting the great work of individual communities – check out our website.

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28th March
written by Lisa Stand

Today’s post comes from Alliance policy analyst, Lisa Stand.

A new report from the National Association of Community Health Centers discusses the crucial role community-based health providers play in efforts to end homelessness and relieve its effects on health and quality of life.

Community agencies that work with people experiencing homelessness are probably most familiar with the specialized Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) clinics, which last year served more than 800,000 people experiencing homelessness nationwide, through 208 separate projects. In addition, permanent supportive housing (PSH) programs are often connected in one way or another to a community health clinic, assuring a source of primary care for PSH residents and adding to housing stability.

While community health is financed in a variety of ways, federal funding is paramount, through Medicaid and grants to Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), to name a few federal sources. According to the NACHC report, “health centers operate in more than 8,000 locations and serve 23 million patients.” Access to community health care services helps make the business case for PSH, and health centers anchor local safety nets to help prevent homelessness.

The report, “Community Health Centers: The Local Prescription for Better Quality and Lower Costs,” was released last week, as a couple thousand advocates for community health centers gathered in Washington to help Congress understand their vital role in communities across the country.

Are you interested in learning more about how health care reform can help end homelessness? Email us and check out our resources online.

24th March
written by naehblog

Today’s post comes from Alliance research associate Pete Witte; he summarizes a new poverty report released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau released the report Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Poverty, 2004—2006. The report examines incidence and duration of poverty among a sample of U.S. residents and households across a three year (36 month) period.

The report found that 29 percent of the U.S. population experienced episodic poverty (poverty for at least 2 months during the survey period) and 3 percent experienced chronic poverty (poverty for the entire 36 month survey period). Of the 33 million people experiencing poverty at the beginning of the survey period, 23 percent remained in poverty for the 36 months.

The report, which examines poverty through data collected on cash and non-cash income as part of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), also tracks people as they leave or enter into poverty. Of the 11.7 million people who were in poverty in the beginning of the survey but who exited by the end of the survey, more than half continued to have income less than 150 percent of their poverty threshold.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • 33 million people were in poverty in January/February 2004 and 23 percent remained in poverty throughout the 36 month survey period.
  • 11.7 million, or 42 percent, who were poor in the 2004 calendar year were not in poverty in 2006.
  • 10 million who were not in poverty (4 percent) in 2004 slipped into poverty by 2006.
  • 4.5 months was the median length of a poverty spell; half of such spells ended within four months while about 12 percent lasted more than 24 months.
  • More than half of those who did exit poverty continued to have income that was not significantly above the poverty level (less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold).
  • Children younger than 18 tended to stay poor longer than working-age adults (ages 18-64): the median length of their poverty spells was 5.2 months, while for those 18 to 64, the median was 4.2 months.
  • Older adults (65 and older) had the longest stays in poverty of any age group: a median spell of 6.7 months.
  • People in female-led families had longer median poverty spells than those in married-couple families.
  • Non-Hispanic Whites had a lower episodic poverty rate (22.6 percent) and a shorter median poverty spell length (4.0 months) than Hispanics and Blacks.
  • Blacks had a higher chronic poverty rate (8.4 percent) than Hispanics (4.5 percent) and non-Hispanic Whites (1.4 percent).

To access the full report, visit the website.