Local Vacancy and Crowding Rates Can Better Inform Policies to Address Homelessness among Unaccompanied Youth, Single Adults, and Families

A study published in the Journal of Urban Affairs, “Local rental market dynamics and homelessness rates among unaccompanied youths, single adults, and people in families,” examines the impact of local vacancy rates, overcrowding rates, and median rents on community-level rates of homelessness for three subgroups: unaccompanied youths (age 18-24), single adults (age 25 and older), and people in families. The author, Vijaya Tamla Rai, finds that higher vacancy rates were associated with lower homelessness rates among people in families but not among unaccompanied youth or single adults. Higher crowding rates were associated with higher homelessness rates among unaccompanied youth and single adults but not among people in families.

The study relied on HUD Point-In-Time (PIT) count data about the number of individuals experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2020 in 270 of the 392 Continuum of Care (CoC) areas in the U.S. A CoC is a regional or local planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for people experiencing homelessness. Non-metro CoCs categorized by HUD as “largely rural” and CoCs in the non-contiguous U.S. (Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico) were excluded. For each CoC area, Rai aggregated census tract-level data on vacancy rates, crowding rates, median rents, and other characteristics from the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS). Vacancy rates were restricted to rental housing units rather than all vacant housing units. For example, vacant units that were for sale and those used for seasonal or recreation purposes were not included. Crowding rates were also based only on rental housing units, with rental units classified as crowded if they had more than one occupant per bedroom. In measuring the association between local rental market characteristics and homelessness rates, the statistical models used controlled for local economic, demographic, social safety net, climate, and transient conditions that have been shown to impact homelessness rates.

Rai first found that the average homelessness rate across CoCs was highest for single adults, followed by unaccompanied minors and people in families. On average, single adults experiencing homelessness accounted for 115 of every 10,000 persons living alone. In comparison, unaccompanied minors experiencing homelessness accounted for 10 of every 10,000 persons living alone and families experiencing homelessness accounted for seven of every 10,000 families. Overall, in the general population of the U.S., an estimated 18 people experience homelessness per 10,000.

Rai found that higher vacancy rates in CoC areas were significantly associated with lower rates of homelessness among families. Specifically, Rai found that a 10% increase in vacancy rates was associated with a 3% decrease in rates of homelessness among adults in families. In comparison, no significant association was found between vacancy rates and homelessness rates among single adults. Rai notes the value of this finding given that prior research has suggested that vacancy rates have no association with homelessness. Rai recommends that areas with lower vacancy rates should increase the supply of affordable multifamily rental units and permanent housing solutions to stabilize both families exiting homelessness and those at risk of homelessness.

Rai found varying associations between overcrowding and homelessness rates when comparing unaccompanied youths, single adults, and families. Higher rates of crowding were significantly associated with higher rates of homelessness among unaccompanied youth and single adults, while there was no significant association between crowding and homelessness rates among families. A 10% increase in crowding rates resulted in a 3% increase in homelessness among single adults. Based on this finding, Rai calls for increased resources for emergency shelter and rental assistance that would help unaccompanied youth and single adults in the short-term and an increased supply of affordable studio and one-bedroom rental units that could stabilize them in the long-term.

Finally, Rai found that higher median rents were associated with significantly higher rates of homelessness among single adults and people in families but were not associated with homelessness rates among unaccompanied youths. The association between median rents and homelessness rates was not found to be significantly different between single adults and people in families. Rai notes that prior research has found that median rents were associated with increased homelessness rates for single adults but not for families but speculates that these differences may be the result of using different study designs.

Rai concludes that researchers, policymakers, and service providers should be aware of how various rental market factors influence homelessness rates for different populations and create affordable housing interventions that are designed to reduce and prevent homelessness for each population. In areas with lower vacancy rates, Rai’s findings suggest the need to increase the supply of affordable housing that meets the needs of low-income families who are at risk of or are currently experiencing homelessness. In areas with higher overcrowding rates, increasing the supply of affordable single-occupancy units could meet the needs of single adults and unaccompanied youth who are at risk of or are currently experiencing homelessness. Moreover, Rai acknowledges prior research that has demonstrated the greater behavioral health needs of unaccompanied youth and single adults and calls for the delivery of social and behavioral health case management and services to ensure these populations remain stably housed. 

Read the article at: https://bit.ly/4aQn4cD