Rising Rents: The Primary Cause of Homelessness in the US

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# Rising Rents Identified as Primary Cause of Homelessness in the US

Advocates have recently shed light on the driving force behind the increasing numbers of homeless people in the US: rising rents. Despite long-held beliefs that mental-health conditions, disability, and drug use were the main causes of homelessness, rental-assistance programs are now being seen as a crucial solution.

According to data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, over half a million people were homeless in January 2022. This marks a consistent annual increase since 2017.

The problem persists despite successful efforts to provide housing for individuals. Steve Berg, Chief Policy Adviser at the NAEH, explained that the number of people losing their housing and becoming homeless is rising at a faster rate than those who are homeless and can find housing once again.

Rent is identified as the number one issue behind this crisis. Berg emphasized that for the past 75 years, the cost of modest rental housing has been increasing at a faster pace than affordable incomes.

Leading experts recently addressed this issue at a briefing hosted by the NAEH, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition. They debunked the prevailing belief that mental-health conditions and addiction are the primary factors contributing to homelessness. Instead, they highlighted the significant discrepancy between rising rents and stagnant incomes as the true cause.

Peggy Bailey, Vice President for Housing and Income Security at the CBPP, stated that housing instability primarily stems from income problems. While mental-health conditions and disabilities can exacerbate the risk of homelessness, they are not the primary cause.

Bailey further revealed that median rents in the US increased by 18% from 2001 to 2021. Even more concerning is the fact that between 2019 and 2021, during the height of the pandemic, rents rose by 13%. Unfortunately, these rent increases were not matched by corresponding income growth.

# The Need for Government Intervention in Affordable Housing

Affordable housing cannot be solely entrusted to the private market, according to Diane Yentel, the president of the NLIHC. This is due to the fact that the rent people with low incomes can afford does not cover the expenses associated with operating and maintaining a property. Yentel emphasizes that this represents a fundamental market failure that necessitates government intervention in the form of subsidies.

Rental-Assistance Programs: An Effective Solution to Homelessness

The most effective approach to combating homelessness is through housing-first initiatives, such as rental-assistance programs, according to the CBPP’s Bailey. Thanks to these programs, veteran homelessness has significantly decreased by more than half from 2009 to 2022.

The Success of Housing-First Approaches

Housing-first strategies involve offering individuals housing without any prerequisites and subsequently providing them with necessary social services like counseling and addiction treatment. This approach was initially implemented at the federal level during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Challenging Conventional Housing Perspectives

In 2020, the Trump administration proposed a shift away from housing-first initiatives, suggesting that housing vouchers should only be provided once individuals complete drug and mental-health treatment as well as job-training programs. Bailey criticizes the notion that housing should be viewed as a reward or a source of wealth for families. This perspective has historically led to insufficient construction of apartment buildings and discriminatory practices against marginalized communities. It has limited their access to housing in certain neighborhoods or communities.

Investing in Rental Assistance and Affordable Housing

As the richest country in the world, America still grapples with a distressing number of people experiencing homelessness. Bailey raises the question of why this problem persists and what measures can be taken to alleviate it. Her answer is clear: investing in rental assistance and affordable housing is crucial to addressing homelessness and preventing evictions.

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