New research analyzes how income inequality drives homelessness in the US • The Greylock Glass
Income inequality drives hundreds of people homeless every night in dozens of communities across the United States, finds new search in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.
A community of 740,000 people where income disparities have increased sharply over the past decade can expect more than 550 more people to become homeless on any given night, the researchers report in their article, “Rising Tide Drowns Unstable Boats: How Inequality Creates Homelessness. “
The results may not surprise residents of expensive cities like New York City, where, according to federal data, 13% of the country’s homeless population lives. West Coast Cities with High Housing Costs, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, also have well-documented homelessness crises.
The new research is among the first to analyze the specific ways in which income inequality affects homelessness at the local level.
“Ultimately, income inequality prevents low-income households from pulling out of housing markets,” says the lead author. Thomas Byrne, an assistant professor at Boston University studying housing.
Income inequality refers to the income gap between those who earn the most and those who earn the least. Income is distinct from wealth, which accumulates through stock market investments, real estate, and other means besides wages earned for work and other taxable income.
Imperfect data on homelessness
About 580,000 people are homeless in the United States, according to 2020 from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Annual Report in Congress.
National figures on homelessness are imprecise as they are based on an annual tally carried out over a single night at the end of January. A homeless person is someone who “does not have a fixed, regular and adequate overnight residence,” according to the report.
About 60% of the homeless identified are in shelters while 40% are homeless and live, for example, on the street, in a park, in a vehicle or in an abandoned building.
“Rent is getting too high to live on,” a Seattle tenant said in 2017, responding to a investigation from the city Seattle Women’s Commission and the King County Bar Association’s Housing justice project, which offers free legal aid to local tenants facing eviction.
While the overall number of homeless is down 10% since the federal agency’s first count in 2007, the authors of the new document note that increasing homelessness in some large communities has resulted in a rise in the national tally since. 2016.
HUD counts homeless people living in nearly 400 geographic areas known as continuums of care. It’s easier to think of a continuum of care as a network of service providers, including nonprofits and government agencies, who tackle issues of homelessness within and sometimes between regions. Staff from these vendors, along with local volunteers, do the annual night count.
Some cities, such as New York and St. Louis, form their own continuum of care. For other places, like Denver, the continuum of care includes Metropolitan area. In less densely populated areas – Montana, North Dakota, and Delaware, for example – an entire state can be a continuum of care.
The HUD data is flawed in other respects. Academic the researchers noted the agency does not report measurements of uncertainty, such as margins of error, and that some homeless people are not included in the homeless count because it only happens one night.
Yet this is the most comprehensive current data available on homelessness in the United States, and it is routinely used in housing and homelessness research.
Uneven growth of inequalities
The authors of the new article estimate a Gini coefficient, a widely used measure of income distribution, for 239 continua of care from 2007 to 2018. These communities accounted for 77% of people who were homeless on any given night in 2018.
The authors exclude communities of less than 65,000 inhabitants because the last years Census Bureau estimates on median household income, median rent and other factors associated with homelessness are not available for small communities.
The Gini coefficient is often expressed on a rating scale of 0 to 100. A score closer to 0 indicates less inequality, while a score closer to 100 means more inequality.
The national Gini coefficient follows closely with the income share the Top 10% of employees take home, according to the authors.
The mean Gini score was 44 for all years and communities studied.
Income inequality increased by 0.37 points, or about 1%, over the decade studied, but varied considerably from community to community. About a third of the communities saw their estimated Gini score increase by more than one point, more than double the average growth rate of the communities studied.
Major cities and surrounding areas that have experienced relatively larger increases in income inequality include Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Philadelphia.
Small communities in the same category include Amarillo, Texas; Burlington, Vermont; Camden, New Jersey; Chico, California; DeKalb, Illinois; Lakeland, Florida; Portsmouth, Virginia; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Utica, New York; and Worcester, Massachusetts.
The full list is available here.
The average community in the authors’ dataset was a population of 740,000, roughly the size of Seattle.
For a community this size, a one-point increase in the Gini score is associated with an additional 562 people who do not have a home on a given night, the researchers say.
“We can have a lasting impact”
The goal is to “get up to 130,000 people off the streets” over the next 12 to 18 months, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said. mentionned during a press briefing on March 18.
“If we are strategic about how these funds are used, we can have a lasting impact,” Byrne says.
His new article, written with the associate professor at the University of Southern California Benjamin henwood and assistant professor at California State Polytechnic University Anthony Orlando, could be instructive.
The authors examine two ways in which income inequality can lead to homelessness.
The first is what people spend on housing.
The supply of housing generally cannot keep up with the demand for housing in cities. There is “an urban renaissance”, Orlando wrote in his 2018 doctoral thesis, “and housing cannot be built fast enough”. Zoning and land use regulations are two big reasons housing supply cannot keep up.
What happens when the supply of housing cannot keep up with the demand? The prices go up.
This increases the chances that people who earn less money will become burdened with the cost of housing, which means they spend more than 30% of their pre-tax income on housing. Some people will pay more to stay in their homes, while higher prices will drive others away.
Housing researchers noted limits of the 30% threshold – although, from an analytical point of view, it provides “a useful means of establishing a binary relationship from which research can then distinguish between households with burdensome costs and those who do not. are not ”, as the authors of a recent article on the rural housing burden wrote.
The second way in which income inequality can lead to homelessness is related to the rate of increase in house prices. Booming communities attract high-income, highly-skilled workers, who quickly drive up housing prices, the authors say.
Their analysis establishes a stronger link between growing income inequality and the burden of housing costs, rather than the rate at which house prices are rising, although the authors characterize this finding as “tentative” and point out that research additional are needed.
Yet they write that “while many proponents of housing policy focus on slowing the growth of house prices, this strategy alone is unlikely to be sufficient to prevent homelessness. It is important to include policies that increase the capacity of low-income households to shelter – for example, by increasing minimum wages, levels of public benefits and the supply of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. “
The authors further stress that their findings “underscore the importance of local inequalities, as opposed to national inequalities.”
But Byrne says there’s one thing the federal government could do to dramatically reduce homelessness: make sure everyone who needs a housing choice voucher gets one.
Section 8, also known as the Housing Choices Voucher program, is the federal government’s largest effort to help low-income people rent secure housing. The program subsidizes 70% of monthly rent and utilities for families earning less than half the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which they live.
While about 2.2 million households use Federal Housing Choice Vouchers, eligible households are not automatically enrolled, and about three quarters of eligible households do not use them.
A study of voucher program participation looked at over 69,000 households that offered a voucher and found that 48% used them. There are a variety of reasons, including owners who do not accept vouchers and not enough good.
“It sounds trite to say, but homelessness is a problem rooted in affordability, and income inequality actually makes it harder for individuals to afford housing,” Byrne says. “Helping them find housing is a logical and solid response. What would have the greatest impact on reducing homelessness would be to make section 8 universally accessible to all who are eligible.