The federal report on homelessness shows “that the rent is too high for a growing number of Americans,” advocates say.
Article by Roshan Abraham, Vice News, December 18, 2023
Spurred on by the rising cost of living and the end of pandemic aid, U.S. homelessness this year reached a level not seen since the 2008 financial crisis, according to one influential annual metric released by the The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Friday.
HUD’s annual homelessness count, which is called the “Point In Time,” or P.I.T., count, is not a count of all cases of homelessness throughout the year, but a snapshot of who was homeless on a single day in the last ten days of January.
This year, HUD said 653,100 people were experiencing homelessness, the highest number since HUD began issuing the report in 2007 and a 12 percent increase from 2022. Nearly one-third, or 143,105 people, of those experiencing homelessness reported that they were chronically homeless, also the highest number ever counted.
In a press release, HUD said that the increase in homelessness was a result of the expiration of pandemic-era expansions in the social safety net, like eviction moratoria and rental assistance.
“The rise in homelessness at the beginning of 2023 continued a pre-pandemic trend from 2016 to 2020, when homelessness also increased,” HUD said. The agency said the American Rescue Plan had prevented a rise in homelessness between 2020 and 2022, but many of its resources have now expired.
Of those experiencing homelessness, 60 percent were sheltered and 40 percent were unsheltered, sleeping outdoors or “places not meant for human habitation,” according to the report. Homelessness among families rose 16 percent; for individuals, it was up 11 percent.
The report showed a particular dire situation for people of color. Black people accounted for 37 percent of the homeless population despite making up only 13 percent of the country’s population. Asian Americans saw the largest percentage increase, experiencing a 40 percent rise in homelessness from 2022, and the largest numerical increase was among Hispanic or Latino Americans, up by more than 39,000 people, or 28 percent from the prior year.
There also were 39,700 people over the age of 64 experiencing homelessness, and 34,700 people under the age of 25 experiencing individual homelessness, meaning they were not with their families.
In New York, the homeless population increased by 39 percent year over year, likely a result of an ongoing influx of migrants to the state. But the highest percentage increases were in New Hampshire (52 percent) and New Mexico (50 percent.)
California’s homeless population, on the other hand, only grew 5.8 percent year over year, though its overall unhoused population remains the highest.
In an analysis of the newly released numbers, the Urban Institute blamed the increase on a lack of affordable housing, which has led more people to become newly homeless.
“These numbers are a jarring snapshot of the increasing housing affordability challenges Americans face and the lack of a long-term federal investment to meet the urgent need for affordable housing,” the Urban Institute said. It pointed to one estimate that there is a shortage of 7.3 million homes for people who are extremely low income.
The U.S. has been on a home-building boom in the past few years, particularly for multi-family rental housing, but the amount of units affordable to the lowest income Americans have nevertheless dwindled, partly due to deterioration but also the loss of affordable housing subsidies. The rental units that do get built are rarely in the suburbs, putting added pressure on cities to absorb population increases.
“Unfortunately, the PIT confirms what we have been saying for years: that the rent is too high for a growing number of Americans and that far too many people are just one missed paycheck or health crisis away from becoming homeless,” the National Homeless Law Center said in a statement sent to Motherboard.
The group also pointed out that homelessness was trending downward until about 2017 and pressed the administration to focus on proven solutions like permanent housing, currently under attack from think tanks like the Cicero Institute. “Led by billionaires who profit from the criminalization of homelessness, states across the country are passing laws to gut housing first and make it easier to arrest or ticket people for living outside,” the group said.
HUD’s report is viewed as a likely undercount by some advocates. Many unsheltered people are huddled in subways, hospital waiting rooms or doubled-up on couches in the freezing period of time that the count occurs. The annual count is also conducted at the local level by government agencies and contracted nonprofits, so methodologies can vary. But for now, it’s the most comprehensive snapshot we have and this year, it most assuredly does not look good.