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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/11/15

Does Affordable Housing Really Need to Be So Scarce in Most Big Cities?

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The U.S. incarceration rate is now about 240% higher than it was in 1980 (even though the crime rate has been falling the entire time). This means that a reduction by one-half in the incarceration rate, even if only among non-violent offenders, would lower correctional expenditures by at least $17 billion per year. So, what if we could instead spend that $17 billion on administering programs that would create millions of new jobs refurbishing and 'solarizing' run-down or abandoned housing? If such programs could halve the number of non-violent offenders in jail, we taxpayers would be money ahead.

Related fact: Free housing for the homeless is cheaper than only paying for the other kinds of maintenance and care they need.

(So why not also let anyone, who needs a job, work on the creation of the affordable housing that they and others like them personally need?)

In 2005, Utah set out to fix a problem that's often thought of as unfixable: The state had almost 2000 chronically homeless people, most of whom had mental health or substance abuse issues, or both. At the time, the standard approach was to first try to make homeless people "housing ready": You had to get these people into shelters or halfway houses and then get them into treatment programs, and only when and if they made progress with such treatment could they get a chance at permanent housing.

Utah, however, tried a new strategy and a new program. It's called Housing First and it consists of just giving the homeless the homes they need. Amazingly, this approach, in the long run, turned out to be much less costly than the traditional method of dealing with and helping the homeless.

How has Housing First saved Utah money?

Homeless people are not cheap to take care of. They are particularly vulnerable, and often sick, as a result of their homelessness. The cost of homeless shelters, emergency room visits, ambulances, police and so on, quickly piles up. The annual cost of caring for some of these individuals is nearly $1 million, with the average cost being more than $20K per year. But putting each of them, immediately, into their own permanent housing costs only $8K per year. Similarly, a Colorado study found that the average homeless person costs their state $43K/year, while housing that person cost just $17K/yr. So the returns on any housing investment up front, are considerable.

But the Housing First concept isn't just cost effective

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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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