Utah Should Invest Federal Money In Affordable Housing
Housing First is the cornerstone of the fight against homelessness.
Utah, like much of the United States, faces the hideous specter of a homeless population of women, children and men, people who represent a vulnerable segment of those stricken by the poverty. What are the aspects of this crisis? Here are some examples of Americans living in poverty and at the mercy of the streets.
Homeless citizens total more than half a million, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Some 20 percent suffer from mental illness, addiction and previous incarceration. Many are struggling with physical disabilities. Much research suggests that weak social ties and / or lack of connection to a religious community increase homelessness. We like to think Utah is better in this regard. But state homeownership prices, rental rates, and poverty levels suggest that we face difficult challenges in reducing this problem.
A popular, but mistaken, myth that people living on the streets prefer this kind of lifestyle is simply not true. As the data shows, with supportive housing, chronically homeless people have a strong desire for permanent housing, as do most Americans.
We write to represent the Coalition of Religious Communities (CORC), a network of religious leaders sponsored by the Crossroads Urban Center. CORC has worked for years to tackle the homeless problem in Utah. Now is the time to resolve the crisis so that all residents of our communities can enjoy a better quality of life.
Permanent supportive housing, a philosophy adopted by Salt Lake County over 15 years ago, is the cornerstone of the Housing First approach to addressing chronic homelessness. The Housing First model prioritizes the placement of homeless people in permanent housing as a first step. This addresses the most basic human need, housing, while support services help individuals and families find employment or deal with substance abuse or behavioral health issues. In Salt Lake County, permanent supportive housing has a retention rate of 96%.
The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness (SLVCEH) estimates a need for 450 new permanent supportive housing units for individuals, 150 units for families and 300 new overflow shelter beds for the coming winter. Some forward-thinking local officials are looking to convert some of the city’s motel rooms into permanent supportive housing.
Over the next two years, Salt Lake County will receive $ 225 million in funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). CORC believes Salt Lake County officials should spend 20% of that funding on building housing that would reduce homelessness in the county and encourage cities to do the same.
CORC supports SLVCEH’s recommendation to use ARPA funding to create a low-income housing fund to provide long-term, deferred and affordable funding as an ongoing source of funding for housing for low-income people. In addition, any city receiving ARPA funding should be required to contribute to the Low Income Housing Fund.
The counties of Utah, Weber and Salt Lake can and must do better to deal with our growing crisis. This is our problem and we have the means to proactively solve it now. Do we also have the will and the moral commitment?
Tower. Libby Hunter, Bill Tibbitts and Warner woodworth are members of the Coalition of Religious Communities.