By Kris Kuntz, LDC Principal 

Homelessness is a housing problem.  The Huffington Post recently published an article on why America cannot solve the homelessness crisis. The article described Salt Lake City’s success addressing chronic homelessness a few years ago and its current struggle to assist a broader population of adults and families experiencing homelessness—many for the first time.

The author also attributed recent increases in homelessness to the strong economy:

“As the economy has come out of the Great Recession, America’s unhoused population has exploded almost exclusively in its richest and fastest growing cities… in other words, homelessness is no longer a symbol of decline. It is a product of prosperity… the vast majority of people being pushed out onto the streets by America’s growing urban economies do not need dedicated social workers or intensive medication regimes. They simply need higher incomes and lower housing costs.”

The idea that homelessness is the result of prosperity is a hard pill to swallow, because it draws attention to the reality that economic growth has driven up housing costs beyond what many households can afford in markets that have not produced an adequate supply of housing. While many of the ideas outlined in the Huffington Post article are not new, the article highlights the growing pressure on policymakers and community leaders to make critical choices about how to address homelessness.

Within the last few weeks, communities across California have chosen to respond to unsheltered homeless populations with policies that allow the aggressive displacement of encampments and parking bans that make it difficult for people to live in their cars and RVs. These knee-jerk reactions do not actually address the root problem—the high cost and limited availability of housing. Worse, they increase the likelihood that more people will lose any remaining assets they have and spiral further into chronic homelessness.

At LeSar Development Consultants, we understand that homelessness at its core is a housing problem, and we work with policymakers, community leaders, and residents to develop solutions that contribute to regional prosperity by ensuring that all communities produce an adequate supply of housing diversified across income levels.

Recently, the County of Los Angeles took a critical step toward that goal when County Supervisors approved more than $3.8 million in funding to help cities implement strategies set forth in their plans to address homelessness, specifically the creation of affordable and permanent supportive housing (PSH) as well as temporary housing.

“From Burbank to Culver City to Pomona to West Hollywood, these city planning grants, funded by Measure H, showcase thoughtful private-public partnerships and tangible solutions,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

LDC had the opportunity to work with leaders in Burbank, Culver City, and Pomona to think about how they address homelessness, and housing is front and center.  Last year, we also worked with the City of Riverside to craft a Housing First Permanent Supportive Housing Strategy that laid the foundation to create over 400 units of PSH, with each council ward committed to doing their part to address the needs of people experiencing chronic homelessness. In San Diego, we helped develop a resolution to create over 1,200 units of PSH, which was unanimously adopted by City Council. Last month, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced plans to use eight city-owned parcels of land for PSH construction. Even smaller, more rural communities we have worked with, such as Medford, Oregon, have committed to increase the supply of affordable and supportive housing, and to adopt strategies such as Rapid Re-Housing.

These examples highlight the work of policymakers and community leaders who have recognized that addressing homelessness requires their communities to make difficult and different choices about housing policy. Those who don’t will continue to spin their wheels, waste money on band-aid strategies, and inevitably experience growing numbers of people who become homeless and find themselves living unsheltered for the first time. We and others are embracing the opportunity to be a part of the solution. How about you?