Affordable Housing Is A Social Necessity

Posted: June 29, 2009 in Discrimination, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions

So far, there are roughly 300+ cities and counties which have decided to use a "housing first" approach as a method of reducing homelessness in their communities.

The basic idea behind the housing first model, is to help the homeless acquire stable and permanent housing first, then direct them to whatever other assistance they may require in order to remain housed and rebuild their lives.  

When compared to the traditional types of services provided by homeless shelters, the housing first method has been proven to be successful at helping folks get off the streets. It has also shown itself to be a better alternative than increasing the number of shelter beds. But most importantly is that it yields reproducible results – which make it the most cost effective solution to ending homelessness.

Subsequently – even setting aside the fact that the housing first approach is primarily aimed at helping those who fit the criteria of "chronically homeless" – local governments are recognizing that it benefits their communities to implement a "10-year plan to end homelessness" of their own.

Unfortunately, most communities do not have an adequate number of affordable housing units in which to house their homeless. And without the housing, their 10-year plans have no chance at succeeding.

This, therefore, requires local governments to begin thinking along the lines of creating the housing they need.

One obstacle which local governments must overcome in order to build the necessary housing is funding. Yet, once the funding is taken care of, there is another obstacle they face. And that hurdle is – in many ways – harder to surmount.

The obstacle I’m talking about comes from the community itself. And it comes in the form of opposition to the building of affordable housing for the homeless.

A recent article in the Dallas Morning News gave a perfect example of what I mean.

The City of Dallas officially adopted their 10-year plan to end homelessness in May 2004.

Their goal is to build a total of 820 affordable housing units spread throughout the city by 2014. However, each time the city has proposed building some of those units in a specific area, the have been met with strong opposition from residents within those neighborhoods.

Their most recent plan to build 120 efficiency style units was scheduled to be voted on by the Dallas City Council last week. That vote was put on hold when some members of that neighborhood voiced their "… concerns about the project."

Quite telling about the communities perceptions of the project were these three paragraphs,

"One of the residents near the proposed project, Alva Baker, said neighbors are sympathetic to the needs of the homeless. But she said they still have unanswered questions.

Baker, president of the South Boulevard-Park Row Historic District Neighborhood Association, said residents are concerned that the project is too dense. She also questions whether it’s in the best place given the efforts to redevelop the nearby Grand Avenue corridor.

‘It’s not a situation where this neighborhood is just saying NIMBY [not in my backyard],’ she said. ‘We need to take a good hard look at what we’re doing, and does it make sense and how does it affect future economic development?’"

Despite Ms. Baker’s claim that her neighborhood isn’t saying NIMBY, I suspect that’s exactly what is occurring.

I’m willing to bet that no matter how much the city council tries to assure the residents in the area that the proposed housing will not have a negative impact on their neighborhood, they will still find a reason to oppose the city’s plans.

Why do I say that?

Because Dallas is not the only city I’ve read about which has faced strong opposition from the community when it plans to build housing for the homeless. Not only that, but the arguments are so similar as to be virtually identical.

And, all because of one word: homeless.

It makes me wonder.

Perhaps, cities like Dallas should simply begin building affordable housing, period.

Not just housing specifically demarked as being solely for the homeless. But, which would also be available for those who are at risk of becoming homeless. After all, the lack of affordable housing is one of the major reasons folks become homeless.

Having an adequate number of affordable housing units would assist getting folks off the streets. Additionally, it would go a long way toward preventing homelessness in the first place.

It might not be the perfect solution, but it would be a step in the right direction.

One thing is certain: without affordable housing, the numbers of homeless cannot be reduced and will only continue to increase.

  1. As more and more homeowners like myself, lose their homes in this economic disaster that we’re in, (and have been in for several years now), and find themselves needing to tap into the social services, we may see a difference in the sentiments of NIMBY!

    The real barrier here is the thing that we, in the USA, don’t acknowledge– ‘class’–class differences that have always existed here, but about which we do not like to speak. After all, everyone is equal, right?

    This hovers around another thing that we don’t like to talk about in our country and that is segregation. It’s a nasty word, but there are also cultural advantages to it for individuals.

    As I traverse the social services terrain now, I discover my own biases, stereotypes, and ignorance from my exposure to the very people I was most afraid of. I’ve grown to love many–they are some of the best people I’ve ever known. If I had not fallen on hard times, I would not have met them, and my world would be poorer for it. I won’t romanticize it– I also have met some scum. But then, when I was living in wealth, there were plenty of scum there.

    There are no easy answers–the homeless are from all cultures, classes and ethnic backgrounds — I’d like to see cities decide NOT to house us in those gigantic buildings–that segregate us from the rest of the community, but rather to spread us out throughout the community. Ask each ethnic group to focus on taking care of their own-to some extent. And most of all, let those of us who can speak , speak and share, and tell our stories out loud so that we can pave the way for those who cannot.

    Human beings are bound together by common experience. In my 55 years on this planet, I have discovered that there is no one with whom I do not share a common bond, if we will only open up and share. Nothing binds people together tighter than sharing a common enemy in suffering.

    And poverty is everyone’s enemy. The rich are terrified of it, and the poor know it’s effects from first hand experience.

    • MetisRebel says:


      Poverty is, in no uncertain terms, the economic abuse of one class of people by another who are profiting daily from that poverty.

      I’m a concrete, simple person. I believe that diverse people can and do create change when they target a goal and see it through to the end. It doesn’t matter whether people “blend” or not if they are all working on the same objectives.

      Sometimes, those same diverse people can understand each other more compassionately as they push forward together. At the very least, we can come out of it with some mutual respect.

  2. Ed Keener says:

    Here in Boise, ID., a new shelter was begun by the interfaith community and people of good will (Interfaith Sanctuary Homeless Services). We are full most every night. But one of the biggest obstacles for moving on beyond the shelter is lack of affordable housing. It is the one area our task group for ending homelessness as well as the homeless services folks and county and city government and faith community needs to be working on. We just don’t have the housing needed to get folks our of shelters and into a nurturing environment. We need an uprising of discontent that stops putting up with the status quo of allowing a significant portion of our community to continue on and on without proper housing.

    Ed Keener, board president, Interfaith Sanctuary

  3. Rev. Cynthia says:

    Michael, thanks so much for yet another insightful post. Am wondering about your thoughts concerning the new SLO County Supervisor’s creation of a Homeless Services Oversight Council (advisory board) & the $70,000. (plus- apparently other organizations are supposed to add to that salary) HALF -TIME “Homeless Coordinator” (will the coordinator actually be homeless – sorry, I couldn’t resist!). This was reported in The Tribune on June 30th by Bob Cuddy.

    I have written to the county clerk to see about being on the advisory board.

    Blessings, y’all,
    Rev. Cynthia

  4. Matt says:

    Absolutely Michael, I could not agree more.

    Done correctly there is no reason why social housing should have a negative impact of any kind. A new policy in the UK designed to increase the quantity of social housing units sees local councils and housing associations purchasing property from struggling homeowners while allowing them to remain in the property as tenants at means-tested rates. One in six people in the UK live in some form of social housing.

  5. AHD in NY says:

    This is a very interesting article and it makes several good points. I do understand some of the controversy that will take place with plans like these for affordable housing, but in the long run I would have to agree that it is a necessity.

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