Lack of affordable housing is largely a supply and demand problem1:
There are a few issues that are nearly inseparable right now: poverty, homelessness, and affordable housing.
To begin with, the lack of affordable housing can be tied to the lack of housing units available across the income spectrum. This creates a downward pressure dynamic from rising home prices. We have middle income people buying low income housing, low income people buying or renting very low income housing, and very-low income folks either paying too high a % of their income in rents or ending up homeless altogether. This has us in a situation where so many people are on the edge of solvency and homelessness is an accident, ticket, or illness away. This is a poverty that is very difficult to climb out of. To address this challenge, we must start with efforts to get more housing units built, while we ensure immediate food and shelter needs are met for those currently unhoused.
It’s fiscally irresponsible to allow folks to have those needs unmet and have that lead to severe injury or death, which would cost society more than if we had just housed them. Case in point, this last year, a gentleman lost both his legs from being out in the cold. The medical costs to save his life and now care for him as a bilateral amputee are going to be thousands of times higher than if we had the ability to house him.
To meet current shelter needs, we need to look at expanding warming centers and providing funding for paid staff to complement the volunteers who get burnt out. We need to expand the number of car camping locations. We need locations for tent camping and we need more rest stops throughout the county.
At the same time, we must commit to a housing first strategy that employs rapid rehousing and supportive housing solutions. Rapid rehousing is designed to get folks shelter immediately before they succumb to mental illness from the stress and sleep deprivation of living on the streets. Supportive housing is low barrier housing with onsite counseling and other support services for the unhoused high frequency users of emergency services. This is extremely cost effective to a community, freeing up funds for other efforts.
To address the lack of housing units across the spectrum, I would like to see an audit of the permitting process to identify ways to streamline that process and increase the efficiency of getting new units built. In addition, we can look at infilling with ADU’s/SDU’s, cottage clusters, and tiny homes. We can consider micro apartments, mixed use buildings, mobile home parks, and even subsidized or public housing, as well, in order to meet the housing needs of our community. This is not a call for urban sprawl or unrestrained expansion. We can do this by creating density in creative and appealing ways that respect the look and feel of our community.
Finally, we should start tackling the causes of poverty by increasing wages, ensuring everyone has the healthcare they need, and establishing a community support system that promotes success.