House Financial Services Committee Holds Hearing on Homelessness
Last week, the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee of the House Financial Services committee held a hearing entitled “An Overview of Homelessness in America” to examine the current state of homelessness in their districts and around the country. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), over 500,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a given night in January 2017, and of those, nearly 200,000 people were unsheltered. The hearing focused on holistic approaches to housing assistance programs for people experiencing homelessness to address the needs of all vulnerable populations.
The following key themes were highlighted during the hearing:
All participants agreed that housing affordability is a fundamental challenge in addressing homelessness across the country. Ranking Member Maxine Waters’ (D-CA-43) district, which includes Los Angeles, is facing a severe crisis of homelessness driven predominantly by the rising costs of housing. According to witness Peter Lynn, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Los Angeles is the most expensive city to live in the country by all metrics, with over 700,000 cost burdened renters living one unexpected expense from homelessness. HUD finds that over the last year alone, homelessness in California rose by 58,000 people (23 percent), three quarters of which were unsheltered, consistent with similar trends along the west coast that contributed to the first increase in national homelessness in seven years.
Subcommittee Chairman Sean Duffy (R-WI-7) began the hearing with a discussion of the different challenges faced by homeless populations in rural and urban communities, and the disparities in which homelessness is measured, funded and addressed. Witness Duana Bremer, social service director of the Salvation Army of Polk, Burnett and St. Croix Counties Wisconsin highlighted that the barriers faced by the homeless in rural communities, such as low wages, underemployment, lack of public transportation and geographic and social isolation, require policy solutions that differ from urban communities.
Homelessness among the youth population is a growing concern amongst homeless advocates and practitioners. Recent research by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that 1 in 30 youth, aged 13-17, and one in 10 young adults, aged 18-25, experienced a form of homelessness over a 12-month period, equating to three and a half million people. Witness Ann Bischoff, Executive Director of Star House, a drop-in center for youth experiencing homelessness located in Columbus, Ohio highlighted the unique barriers youth, particularly alumni of foster care, face to stable housing, and identified a few promising approaches to addressing the problem, including workforce and community-based housing.
Strengthening Existing Homeless Programs and Services
Overall, there was consensus around the effectiveness and success of existing federal homelessness programs. According to Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, HUD homeless assistance programs are outcome-focused, adaptable and have resulted in a decline in homelessness among all subpopulations since 2007, including individuals, families with children, veterans and the chronically homeless. However, despite the progress made, the hearing’s participants all acknowledged that additional federal resources and greater collaboration between HUD and other federal agencies was required to meet the urgent needs.
An important component to streamlining policy innovation and implementation, according to Roman’s testimony, is leveraging mainstream resources not specifically targeted to homelessness, such as health care and employment services, to meet the needs of vulnerable households. Many people experiencing homelessness require both housing and services in order to get back on their feet, and while initiatives such as permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and housing first models are effective at getting people off the street and out of shelters, ensuring long-term self-efficiency requires collaboration across federal agencies and expanded resources.
Many members of the subcommittee expressed their approval of the increase in funding for critical HUD programs in the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill. Witnesses indicated that increases in the most impactful affordable housing programs, such as the Housing Choice Voucher program, which allows those with extremely low-incomes to integrate into higher opportunity communities and find greater self-sufficiency, the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, which combines voucher rental assistance with case management and other services for veterans and the HOME Investment Partnership and CDBG programs, which will both address the issue of a lack of affordable housing supply in the market, will be vital to making continued progress on ending homeless nationwide.
Enterprise is committed to safeguarding, expanding and improving affordable housing programs for the benefit of the people most in need. We support efforts to increase critical federal resources like the HOME Program, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and the New Markets Tax Credit, and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to end homelessness and increase access to opportunity.