Right now, there are an estimated 18.9 million vacant homes in the US and roughly 3.5 US residents (including a large population of children and youth) have been homeless for a significant period of time. Put those two things together and there are far more vacant homes than people experiencing homelessness in the US. There are so many ways to prevent homelessness before it even happens, including stopping evictions as Mark D. Levine and Mary Brosnahan wrote about:
But the best solution to homelessness is preventing it before it even occurs. More than two-thirds of the people in our shelters are families with vulnerable children, and the most common cause of their homelessness isn’t drug dependency or mental illness. It’s eviction. If we can slow the pace of evictions, we will make a major dent in the homelessness crisis.
… The sky-high pace of evictions is exacerbated by our profoundly unequal judicial system. Unlike those in criminal cases, New Yorkers in housing court have no right to counsel. The result: Only 10 percent of New York City tenants who appear in court have attorneys to help protect their rights. In stark contrast, close to 100 percent of landlords do. It’s hard to overstate just how badly this skews the results of eviction proceedings in favor of owners. Randomized studies have shown that those few tenants who do have attorneys are 80 percent less likely to be evicted as those representing themselves. Landlords know this, too — and will sometimes simply drop their case as soon as they realize a tenant is represented.
And that’s the thing – as a tenant renting a place, you have rights including how much of a notice your landlord is required to give before entering and the landlord selling the property does not automatically end the lease. Organizations like Washington Law Help and the Department of Housing and Urban Planning have resources to help explain your rights as a tenant. And there are also organizations around the country that can help with legal problems if you don’t have a lot of resources or are low income.
There are solutions to ending chronic homelessness and Utah found an obvious one: provide housing for those who are homeless. Simple fix right? Because with this solution and the significant proportion of vacant homes around the country, Utah decreased its chronic homeless population by 91% in ten years. And if all of that doesn’t sell you, there have been estimates saying that this program has actually saved the state close to $12,000 each year per person and helps underlying issues.
Another solution is providing living wages so people don’t struggle with coming up with rent money each month. The best solution though would be the destruction of the current status quo and system that allows for people to be homeless in the first place. The system in play now benefits from high rent and mortgages because the higher the monthly payment on housing, the more money landlords and banks can make.
There are so many other things to consider with these issues – like how chronic homelessness is only a small population of the total homeless and how solutions like inhumane spikes to deter sleeping on the street and criminalizing people who are homeless don’t actually accomplish anything. We need long term solutions that help to address multiple things and the root issues at hand.
One thought on “Ending Homelessness and Housing Rights.”
In states that refuse to follow Utah’s example, homeless people need to start occupying the abandoned homes – en masse. US eviction laws are so complex that landlords need to obtain a court order before police or sheriff (in most places) can evict squatters.