– without housing, that person will remain homeless."
WITHOUT HOUSING: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness, and Policy Failures
Executive Summary (Page 9)
Without Housing documents federal funding trends for affordable housing over the past 25 years, particularly funding for housing programs administered by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as Section 515 rural affordable housing administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). It describes the correlation of these trends to the emergence of a new and massive episode of homelessness in the early 1980s that has continued to the present, and also demonstrates why federal responses to this nationwide crisis have consistently failed. It is focused primarily on what we consider to be one of the most important – if not the most important – factors in explaining why so many people are homeless in the United States today: the cutbacks to and eventual near elimination of the federal government’s commitment to building, maintaining, and subsidizing affordable housing.
In 1978, HUD’s budget was over $83 billion.1
In 1983, HUD’s budget was only $18 billion.2
In 1983, general public emergency shelters began opening in cities nationwide.3
In 1987, Congress passed the Stewart B. McKinney Act, providing $880 million in homeless assistance funding (2004 constant dollars).4
Since 1987, annual McKinney homeless assistance has never been more than $1.4 billion.5
Our perspective is that the overwhelming omission of the systemic and broad structural causes of homelessness in public discussions and policy responses is nothing short of a collective deception that has only led to increased homelessness. Federal responses to homelessness have failed and will continue to fail unless and until they include a serious and sizable federal recommitment to funding affordable housing.
The Root Cause of Contemporary Homelessness
While decades of homeless policy responses have focused upon individual – rather than systemic – factors to explain and address homelessness, the fact that millions of families, single adults, and youth with different biographical backgrounds came to simultaneously experience homelessness in 1983 – and that millions continue to suffer on our streets today – requires a reexamination of historical and social structural forces.
From 1976-1982, HUD built over 755,000 new public housing units, but since 1983, HUD built only 256,000 new public housing units.6
From 1976-1985, a yearly average of almost 31,000 new Section 515 rural affordable housing units were built, but from 1986-1995, average yearly production was less than half that of the previous decade.7
From 1996-2005, Section 515 built an average of only 1700 new units per year.8
In recent years, over 200,000 private-sector rental units have been lost annually, and 1.2 million unsubsidized affordable housing units disappeared from 1993-2003.9 HUD budget authority in 1978 was 65% more than its 2006 budget of $29 billion.10
ii The de-funding of federal affordable housing programs, coupled with the loss of public housing units as well as private-sector affordable housing, should be central to any discussion of the causes of homelessness, yet they have been all but ignored in the debates about and policy responses to the current ongoing crisis. No matter what other factors may come into play in any individual’s experience of homelessness – without housing, that person will remain homeless.
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