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Lessons learned from a failed bet on ‘Housing First’

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Buried deep within thousands of pages of the current Democrat partisan reckless tax and spending bill is a $24 billion housing voucher program doomed to fail from the start.

This seemingly benign proposal provides “no requirements” housing vouchers to “help” select populations, including those who have experienced domestic violence and those transitioning from incarceration. While this may sound good, this proposed program is based on a larger failed policy that has proven to be detrimental for the vulnerable American citizens it was intended to help.

In 2008, the Bush administration introduced Housing First to “treat” the chronically homeless population—largely the “street homeless” which back then and today, represent only 10-20 percent of the total homeless population.  They argued that the provision of government-subsidized housing vouchers with no preconditions or service participation requirements was the way to get those living on the streets to accept housing.

In 2013, the Obama administration inaugurated Housing First as a one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness, with no evidence it would work for all Americans experiencing homelessness.  They promised it would end homelessness in a decade.

However, the first ever-results reported by the federal government in October 2020 reveal it is a catastrophic failure. Under the Housing First rule, homelessness rose by 16 percent as opposed to the promised demise of homelessness, and the unsheltered population of the homeless (those living on the streets) rose 21 percent. These failed results happened during a period of robust economic growth and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic… and under a jaw-dropping 200 percent increase in spending to the program.

California—the only state that went completely all-in on Housing First—experienced a 47.1 percent increase in street-level homelessness since its 2016 adoption at the state level, and a 33.8 percent increase in homelessness overall. 

We learned from the Housing First experiment at the federal level that housing without sobriety and/or work requirements resulted in sizable increases in the unsheltered population.  “Policies that do not address the real root causes of homelessness have exacerbated the homelessness condition in America, according to the federal government’s October 2020 report.”  

To the surprise of few, the Biden administration, however, quietly removed this report from the HUD and USICH websites… and the public eye.  A copy can be seen here.

Eleanor Roosevelt cautioned the United Nations in her 1948 address, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.” A free society is not free of requirements. 

It is a principle that both Democrats and Republicans have long upheld.

In 1996 President Clinton signed The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, instituting work requirements in exchange for time-defined government assistance as a means of breaking the cycle of government dependency. Work requirements, however, are disallowed under Housing First as well as under the new $24 billion in proposed housing vouchers even though social determinants of health research indicates that employment is the determinant with the strongest correlation to positive health outcomes

President Biden himself said that unemployment benefits do not come free, “We’re going to make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment.”  

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) recently insisted on work requirements in the proposed expansion of the child tax credit.

The Housing First experiment proves the “give victims everything and demand nothing” mentality is an ill wind that hurts substantially more than it helps.   

All human beings are endowed with unique and significant human potential. Policy must focus on unleashing their talents, not keeping them in a state of dependence. We urge members to reject this $24 billion housing voucher program and remember that when able-bodied men and women are not required to actively participate in the society that is putting a roof over their heads, they forfeit their personal freedom and risk our collective freedom as well. 

Hon. Roger Williams is the congressman of Texas’ 25th District. Michele Steeb is the co-author of “Answers Behind the Red Door: Battling the Homeless Epidemic and a senior fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Tags Homelessness Housing voucher Joe Biden Joe Manchin Roger Williams

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