Guest blog post by Rachael Myers, Executive Director, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
We frequently hear the phrase “we can’t build our way out of homelessness.” It’s a talking point that people often use when advocating for important strategies like safe places for homeless folks to camp or rapid rehousing programs. Everyone is making the same, valuable point – given our current resources, we need to address the problem using all the tools we have available.
I know we all agree on that point so let’s start saying that directly. “We can’t build our way out of homelessness” doesn’t accurately convey what we mean and is in fact harmful to our efforts to generate more resources to expand housing for people experiencing homelessness.
A few thoughts about why this is a problem:
The statement assumes that there is a resistance or ignorance among federal, state, and local policy makers regarding housing people experiencing homelessness in ways other than building housing. In fact federal, state, and local policy makers have for years recognized and invested in other methods of getting people housed like Section 8 vouchers, state and local vouchers, or other rapid rehousing efforts.
It is harmful because it singles out one valuable approach to housing people experiencing homelessness as ineffective. If we can’t build our way out of the problem why should we invest in the Housing Trust Fund or tax ourselves for our local housing levy?
The fact is given enough resources we can build our way out of the problem. We could potentially also voucher our way out of the problem, again with enough resources, enough landlords willing to accept people experiencing homelessness, and supportive services for those who need that level of help. We need to do both, and more.
Again, the point we all agree on is that we need to use all the tools we have to make homelessness rare, and when it does happen brief. In January, volunteers with the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness found a 21% increase in people surviving outdoors. In King County there are only 15 affordable homes available for every 100 extremely low-income household. And across the state last year, there were more than 32,000 homeless school kids.
There’s little doubt that we must do everything we can – including building housing – to solve this crisis. I hope we can all agree to banish this phrase from our talking points!