Washington, D.C. – The January 7 release of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Part 1 of the 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) confirms that we as a nation need to do much more to end homelessness. HUD’s 2019 point-in-time count found 568,000 people across the U.S. were experiencing homelessness on the night the count was conducted, and more than one-third of them were sleeping on the streets, in parks, in their vehicles, or in other places not meant for habitation. This is a 3% national increase from last year. Twenty-one states saw the number of people experiencing homelessness increase last year, while 29 states and the District of Columbia experienced a decline in their homeless population.
What the report did not say: homelessness is solvable. We have proven solutions to end homelessness and, in the wealthiest nation in the world, we have the resources to solve the problem. We lack only the political will to fund the solutions at the scale necessary.
Homelessness results from a lack of decent, accessible and affordable homes. Our nation has a shortage of seven million affordable homes for the lowest-income renters. Nationally, for every ten extremely low-income renter households, there are fewer than four affordable apartments available. The shortage is pervasive, impacting urban, suburban and rural communities and varying only in degree of severity. As a result of the shortage, millions of extremely low-income households spend more than half of their limited incomes on rent, leaving them little for food, medicine, and other basic needs; they are one setback (a broken-down car or unexpected medical bill) from eviction and possible homelessness.
As housing becomes less affordable, homelessness increases. Research shows that cities in which residents spend over 32% of their income on rent experience a rapid rise in homelessness. In many areas of the country, even small rent increases can place thousands of vulnerable people at heightened risk of homelessness. Not surprisingly, some of the states with the most severe shortages of affordable homes are those with the highest rates of homelessness per 10,000 people: New York (46), Hawaii (45), California (38), Oregon (38), and Washington (29). And some states with too few affordable homes also lack an adequate amount of emergency shelter. In five states—Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Oregon—more than half of all people experiencing homelessness were sleeping on the street or in their cars.
There are tremendous racial disparities in homelessness. African Americans represent 13% of the general population but account for 40% of people experiencing homelessness and more than 50% of homeless families with children. Structural racism created and sustains this disproportionality.
The solution to homelessness in America is obvious: affordable, accessible homes. We must invest in expanded federal solutions such as rental assistance, construction of apartments affordable to the lowest income renters, cash assistance to avoid evictions and robust renter protections. We have the data, the solutions, the public support, and the financial means to make sure everyone in our nation has a place to live, and to end homelessness. All we need now is the political will to get it done.
About NLIHC: Established in 1974 by Cushing N. Dolbeare, the National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that ensure people with the lowest income in the United States have affordable and decent homes.