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Karen Fratti
August 05, 2017 10:33 am

Gentrification is happening in many major American cities, but it doesn’t just mean that neighborhood demographics change — it can also lead to an increase in homelessness. In many neighborhoods, a byproduct of gentrification is a rise in rental housing prices, and according to a new report from Zillow, if rents in New York City went up by just 5%, New York’s homeless population could grow by 3,000 people. In Los Angeles, the same sort of rent increase could force 2,000 more people out of their homes.

According to Zillow’s research, the connection between gentrification/rising rents and homelessness was strongest in New York, L.A., Washington D.C., and Seattle. In some places, though, cities are actively working to combat homelessness, which means rising rent costs don’t always end up leaving people on the streets.

Cities like Houston and Tampa, Florida, for example, have seen record rent increases. But those cities have implemented programs to help homeless people, like voucher programs or programs to get families into shelters or affordable housing, and the increased rents haven’t resulted in homelessness increases. According to Zillow’s study, cities with similar programs and rising rent prices, such as Chicago, Phoenix, St. Louis, San Diego, Portland, Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Charlotte, also saw dips in homelessness.

With focused effort, cities can change their homeless rates.

But cities like New York and L.A., where homelessness has increased due to shelter closures, lack of resources, and, of course, expensive housing, still struggle.

Zillow senior economist Skylar Olsen said in a statement, “We’ve seen so much pressure in rental-housing markets that it’s created a rental affordability crisis that has spilled over into a homelessness crisis at lower-income levels.”

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Olsen added:

Some cities, like D.C. for example, provide vouchers to homeless people to cover rent for a few months at a time. But existing residents often combat landlords who rent to homeless people, making it hard for landlords to continue renting to low-income folks. In addition, many cities don’t allocate enough resources to solving some of the bigger causes of homelessness — like affordable access to mental health care or substance abuse counseling.

Any effort by cities to decrease homelessness has to be comprehensive. That means tackling the issue from all angles: controlling rent prices and new development; increasing the amount of affordable housing and shelter beds; and helping people get the kind of care they need to maintain employment and keep up with rent prices. It’s not an impossible task—it just takes dedication. Hopefully, more places will follow the aforementioned cities’ examples and adapt what works. Because homelessness rates should never be this high.

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