Homelessness Higher in Areas with Higher Share of Renters, Median Rents, and Poverty Rates

A report by Maria Hanratty at the Housing Policy Debate, Do Local Economic Conditions Affect Homelessness? Impact of Area Housing Market Factors, Unemployment, and Poverty on Community Homeless Rates, finds that homelessness rates correlate to median rents and the share of households in rental housing, and in some cases to poverty rates. Homelessness is also higher in communities with higher poverty rates and median rents where shelter-all or right-to-shelter policies guarantee access to emergency shelters to all eligible people in need of assistance, as people in shelters were included in the total homeless counts.

Analyzing data on 50 states from 2007 to 2014, the report uses different definitions of the homeless rate to capture different components of homelessness. These include the total homeless rate, the sheltered homeless rate, the unsheltered homeless rate, the homeless rate of persons in families with children, and the homeless rate of individuals not living in families with children at the time of their homelessness. In models that did not control for differences between communities, the report found that a 10% increase in the share of renters in a community correlated to a 13% increase in the total homeless rate, and a 10% increase in the median rent correlated to a 9% increase in the total homeless rate.  A 10% increase in the poverty rate correlated to a 4.5% increase the total homeless rate.

Five communities in the study operate shelter-all policies for families (New York City; Washington, DC; Salt Lake City; Hennepin County, MN; and the State of Massachusetts) and three operate right-to-shelter policies for individuals (New York City, Washington, DC, and Salt Lake City). In these communities, the homeless rates increase with challenging economic conditions as people living in marginal housing conditions are more likely to move into shelters than to become unsheltered; the authors note that the HUD homeless counts may be more likely to identify people living in shelters than those living unsheltered, though they attempt to count both. The study found that for these communities, a 10% increase in the poverty rate correlates to a 5% increase the total homeless rate in right-to-shelter communities, and a 10% increase in median rents correlates to a 25% increase in the total homeless rate. The report found that right-to-shelter communities have larger increases in homelessness in response to increases in median rents and poverty rates than other communities do.  

Because communities with high rents and high poverty rates have higher rates of homelessness, the author urges resources for preventing homelessness to be targeted to these communities. The author also suggests that policies and programs to reduce poverty generally, like employment and social assistance programs, may be critical to reducing homelessness.

The primary source of data used in the report is HUD’s point-in-time count of homelessness from 2007 to 2014, which includes the sheltered and unsheltered homeless. The report also uses state-level data from the National Center for Homeless Education on the number of elementary and secondary school children who are homeless and highly mobile in each year from 2007 to 2014. The data also include children living in doubled-up family situations and those living in emergency shelters or unsheltered locations. This broader definition of homelessness captures a segment of the homeless population not captured in the HUD data.

Do Local Economic Conditions Affect Homelessness? Impact of Area Housing Market Factors, Unemployment, and Poverty on Community Homeless Rates is available at: http://bit.ly/2o0yoLz