Rental Housing Market Dynamics Impact Homeless Subpopulations Differently

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,” explores how community rental market dynamics impact homelessness, specifically among subgroups including unaccompanied youths, single adults, and people in families. The study finds that rental vacancy rates, rental overcrowding rates, and median gross rent affect rates of homelessness among members of these subgroups differently. The author concludes that understanding how rental housing market characteristics impact different homeless subpopulations is important for developing effective policy interventions.

To study the relationship between rental market characteristics and homelessness rates among the different subgroups, the author analyzed data on homelessness from HUD’s January 2020 Point in Time (PIT) count and data on rental vacancy rates, median rents, and overcrowding from the 2015-2019 American Community Survey. Overcrowding was defined as the percentage of all rental units in a community with more than one occupant per room. Data were analyzed across 270 metropolitan Continuums of Care (CoCs), the local service areas for HUD’s CoC program through which homeless services are coordinated.

The author finds that higher rental vacancy rates were associated with lower rates of homelessness for people in families but not for unaccompanied youths or single adults. Higher levels of overcrowding in rental housing, meanwhile, were associated with increased homelessness among unaccompanied youths and single adults but not people in families. Findings regarding the relationship between median rent levels and homelessness among the subgroups were inconclusive, though other studies have found a relationship between median rent levels and homelessness among individuals but not families.

The results of the study emphasize how rental market dynamics affect homeless subpopulations differently. The author stresses that understanding these differences can help inform policy interventions. Increasing the supply of affordable rental units is essential to addressing homelessness for all three subgroups. Increasing the supply of affordable rental units in communities with low vacancy rates is especially important to address family homelessness, while increasing the supply of affordable studio and one-bedroom units is particularly important for addressing single-adult and unaccompanied youth homelessness in communities with high levels of overcrowding.

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