Providing real homes, rather than shelter beds, for people who are homeless has been all the rage these past few years. This approach is called “Housing First,” and it allows people to live in permanent apartments while participating in services. Although there are critics to such an approach, the fact is that housing is the key to ending homelessness.
But, with the large number of people who are still floundering on our streets, we just don’t have enough apartments into which people can move.
One approach to housing people is to provide subsidized housing vouchers to people who are homeless. These vouchers make rental payments more affordable, allowing people in need to live in apartments scattered throughout the community. But there is a shortage of available apartments, and many landlords are reluctant to accept these vouchers.
The other approach is to build more affordable apartments. However, the cost to build new housing is extraordinary. In Los Angeles, the cost is about $300,000 per unit. If Los Angeles were to build enough new housing for the 54,000 people living on its streets, (if you agree with their homeless count), it would cost the city about $16 billion dollars.
There is no political will, or resources, to fund such an initiative. When building affordable housing, most jurisdictions talk in millions, not billions.
Clearly, there are not enough affordable homes for everyone in this country. We need more creative ideas for how to provide housing for our neighbors who sleep on our streets.
Years ago, I received a telephone call from one of PATH’s celebrity supporters. He had noticed an increase in homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles and wanted to tell me his solution.
“Let’s bus all of these homeless people to campgrounds in the desert,” he told me with excitement. I had to explain that his solution was probably not very politically correct.
So, if campgrounds in the desert are not a good solution, what is?
An architect in Slovakia thinks building small homes behind billboards is the answer to our housing shortage. Perhaps part of the billboard revenue could also support the formerly-homeless person who lives in it.
In Japan, they build tiny homes the size of a parking space. What if we built one parking-space-sized home in every parking lot in America? Such an idea could also provide built-in security for the cars.
Or, with anywhere from 105 million to 2 billion parking spaces in America, why not build affordable housing over these parking spaces? The air above the parking lot is free, and you can still have the parking spaces below. Imagine affordable housing developments over every parking lot in America!
People who are homeless are already sleeping under bridges. Why not build housing between the columns that support the bridge? Or build one home in every park in America?
The ideas for housing are endless. Our current system of building expensive affordable housing units cannot solve homelessness on its own.
We need new remedies.