What is “sustainable” housing cost burden?

Recently, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released a brief fact sheet examining the issue of who should be given short-term rental assistance. Should only those who will most likely succeed receive assistance or also those who may not succeed? Naturally, many organizations believe that they should help those who will most likely succeed, keeping other families from possibly having to re-enter shelter after being in housing for one year. Although the NAEH acknowledges that this issue is complex, it very briefly examines housing burden among low-income families and states that half of low-income households spent more than half of their income on housing.  Despite this, no more than 10 percent of these households become homeless.

Why so few? The fact sheet says that there is very little data to determine any exact cause for this amount, but income unpredictability and social networks seem to be at play. Basically, when income is not steady, families may be made homeless, but then also remain homeless for only a short time when income comes back. And, strong relationships with family and friends can prevent a household from becoming homelessness.

Thus, the fact sheet argues that families who may be confronted with high housing cost burden after a subsidy expires should not be excluded from  short-term subsidies. However, what the article doesn’t acknowledge is that organizations generally do not assist families and their children to simply get them out of shelter but to get them out of poverty. Putting a family into a short-term housing subsidy that will leave them with high rent burden after one year may get them out of homelessness but leave them incapable of getting out of poverty.

The fact sheet can be viewed here.


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