President Obama will release his final budget proposal on Tuesday, in which he’ll call for $11 billion in funding over the next decade to address homelessness among families.
The administration set ambitious goals with its Opening Doors program, which originally sought to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 — many cities and states have reached that goal, while others continue to strive toward it. Now it aims to end chronic homelessness by 2017 and family homelessness by 2020.
To reach that last goal, the budget will propose spending $8.8 billion housing vouchers that can help low-income families pay rent and $2.2 billion on short-term assistance. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates 550,000 families would receive housing choice vouchers, which give recipients help in affording rent on the private market, and rapid re-housing assistance for those in danger of becoming homeless over the next decade if the funding were enacted. Those figures represent a sharp increase over his last budget, which called for about $5.5 billion in funding for targeted homelessness assistance and 67,000 new housing choice vouchers.
There are about 206,000 homeless people in families with children on a given night, accounting for a little more than a third of all homeless people, most of them living in shelters. While there’s been a 12 percent decline in those numbers since 2007, chronic homelessness dropped by 31 percent and veteran homelessness fell by 35 percent.
An intensive study conducted by HUD and released last year found that families who are given permanent subsidies, such as a housing choice voucher, are far less likely to wind up in an emergency shelter or sleeping somewhere such as the street or a car than if they are offered other interventions like short-term rental assistance or temporary housing. They’re also more likely to stay together and in one place.
Advocates see Obama’s call for funding as a big move in the right direction toward ending homelessness. “The Administration’s Homeless Assistance for Families proposal, if enacted by Congress, would give communities exactly what they need to end homelessness for families with children, once and for all,” said Nan Roman, President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in a statement. “It would provide funding over the next ten years for housing interventions proven to end homelessness but never funded adequately and connection to services in the community aimed at helping to stabilize families.”
On top of calling for $11 billion to help homeless families, Obama will also propose an additional 10,000 new housing vouchers, 8,000 new units of housing to rapidly home people on the verge of homelessness, and 25,500 new units of supportive housing that comes with built-in services. It will also sustain the rapid increase in funding that was given to communities trying to end veteran homelessness to ensure those gains are maintained.
Ending homelessness is mostly a question of adequate resources, not a question of finding the right solutions. Research has found that a “housing first” approach to the issue, which aims to put people into housing before dealing with any other problems they might be facing, is very effective. Yet housing, particularly affordable housing, is scarce. In 1970, there was a surplus of 300,000 affordable housing units as compared to the need. By 2009, however, there was a 5.5 million shortage. In that intervening time, federal funding on housing fell dramatically, as did incentives to build affordable units. Meanwhile, incomes have been stagnant while rents keep rising.
While increased funding levels for homelessness assistance have been enacted in past years, Congress may balk at approving such a huge jump. This year, Congress has already signaled they won’t even hear the budget proposal.