Housing Supply Constraints Can Impact Adult Homelessness

An article published in Urban Studies by Casey Dawkins, “Homelessness and Housing Supply,” assesses the relationship between housing supply constraints, especially land use regulations, and rates of homelessness among adults. Contrary to previous studies that assumed housing supply constraints only impacted homelessness through higher rents, Dawkins’s study finds that housing supply constraints appear to impact adult homelessness primarily through their influence on eviction rates, while also being associated with unobserved local policies. Dawkins argues that the reformation of land use policies that constrain housing supply could complement other efforts to address homelessness, such as welfare and federal homelessness assistance funding. He also calls for more coordination between homeless services providers and land use planners.

Existing research has tended to focus on how geographic constraints and local policies that bar the construction of new housing contribute to homelessness by inflating rent prices, displacing low-income renters, and making it difficult for people experiencing homelessness to find a unit they can afford. Dawkins argues that past studies have focused too narrowly on this rent effect and have ignored other ways housing supply constraints can directly impact homelessness. Dawkins posits that housing supply constraints could influence rates of homelessness through an “eviction effect,” according to which landlords evict tenants to renovate, sell, or convert existing units into condos in anticipation of a rise in rent resulting from supply constraints. Since the eviction of current tenants takes place before new rental prices are established, the eviction effect could occur even if there is no immediate rise in rental housing costs. Dawkins also identifies an “unobserved policy effect,” wherein restrictive land use regulations correlate with local policy preferences that might impact homelessness, such as policies that criminalize homelessness or policies that expand services for people experiencing homelessness.

Dawkins finds that greater constraints on housing supply appear to directly increase rates of adult homelessness. Higher rates of adult homelessness are associated with the existence of fewer new housing units relative to new jobs, lower housing supply elasticity, less available land to develop, more restrictive zoning and land use policies, and the presence of urban growth boundaries. Dawkins also finds that housing supply dynamics might impact rates of sheltered and unsheltered homelessness in different ways. For example, while new housing construction is associated with a net reduction in adult homelessness, it is correlated with both a small increase in the sheltered homeless population and a much larger decrease in unsheltered homelessness. This correlation could be due to new construction including transitional housing or expanded shelter space. Increases in land available for development and greater housing supply elasticity, meanwhile, are associated with reductions in both sheltered and unsheltered homelessness. Dawkins’s statistical modeling further suggests these housing supply factors primarily impact homelessness not through rent increases but rather through their influence on eviction rates and unobserved local policies.

Dawkins suggests that his findings indicate a need for less restrictive land use regulations. However, he acknowledges that removing regulations will not eliminate adult homelessness entirely. Therefore, this strategy would be most effective when paired with anti-homelessness and anti-poverty initiatives, such as increased welfare assistance and greater resources for individuals experiencing homelessness.  

Read the article at:  https://bit.ly/3YUZN3k