We Know that Housing Ends Homelessness Before, During and After a Pandemic and Economic Crisis

A May 15, 2020, New York Times opinion piece “America’s Cities Could House Everyone if They Chose To,” makes the case for ending homelessness.

The piece is written by By Binyamin Appelbaum, a member of The New York Times editorial board. Appelbaum points out what housing advocates and homeless service providers also know – the solution to homelessness is a home. He also makes a very strong case for why and how we must end homelessness.

Appelbaum reminds us that indivdiuals and families do not experience homelessness through their own faults. In New Jersey and other high cost areas, there is simply not enough affordable housing to meet these needs of those who need it. And when local communities do not build enough and actively work to prevent the construction of affordable housing, where are low-income households, many of whom who are working in low paying essential jobs that the rest of us depend on, supposed to live?

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach 2019 report revealed that the current wage that a renter in NJ would need to earn to afford a two-bedroom apartment is $28.86/hour. A full-time worker must earn this wage in order to afford a rental home in New Jersey without spending more than 30% of their income.

New Jersey is the 6th most expensive state in the U.S. to rent a home.

Thirty-six percent of New Jerseyans are renters which exacerbates the state’s housing crisis. The average renter in New Jersey only makes $18.68 per hour.

You can read more here.

At a national level, writes Appelbaum,

“The government calculates that $600 is the most a family living at the poverty line can afford to pay in monthly rent while still having enough money for food, health care and other needs. From 1990 to 2017, the number of housing units available below that price shrank by four million.”

Many low-income households are just one crisis away from homelessness. Paying such a high proportion of their income towards housing does not leave even the smallest economic cushion to withstand a crisis.On the night of January 22, 2019 a total of 8,864 men, women and children in 6,748 households were identified as experiencing homelessness in the state of New Jersey.

Writes Appelbaum,

“Those who do end up homeless are often those with additional burdens. They are disproportionately graduates of foster care or the prison system, victims of domestic abuse or discrimination, veterans, and people with mental and physical disabilities. Some end up on the street because of addictions; some develop addictions because they are on the street. Whatever problems they face, however, they are much more likely to become homeless in places without enough affordable housing. According to one analysis, a $100 increase in the average monthly rent in a large metro area is associated with a 15 percent increase in homelessness,”

To end homelessness, we need the political will to end it, the federal investment in housing choice voucers to make housing affordable. We need to create new affordable housing in every community, including high cost areas. We need to believe that housing is a right.

Americans living with disabilities who must rely on Social Security Disability Income also don’t have enough income to afford safe and decent housing. They will benefit from supportive housing.

Appelbaum wrote,

“As Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development, told Congress in May 2019, the success shows ‘that homelessness is not an intractable problem — we can end homelessness.'”

In what will most surely be a long recovery from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, how will we work to ensure that every American has a home that they can afford.

“Having failed to address homelessness during the longest economic expansion in American history, the nation now faces a greater challenge under more difficult circumstances. Yet the imperative remains: Everyone needs a home. No one should be left to die on the street.”