Rental housing costs are driving force behind homelessness spike, says advocate

The lack of affordable rental housing is the main contributor to a recent spike in homelessness across the U.S., according to advocate Steve Berg.

“I think the main driving force right now is rental housing … all across the country we’re seeing rents go up at a level that we haven’t seen for a long time,” Berg, who is vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, told Hill.TV’s Buck Sexton and Krystal Ball on Wednesday.

“And at the same time, people’s incomes are not going up enough to meet them," he said. "I mean this is a long-term trend that’s been going up faster than income since World War II at least, but in the last couple of years it has been more pronounced.”

Berg added that the rental market has been “wiping out any gains” made by cities that have taken steps to combat homelessness.

The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment rose 4 percent over the previous 12 months, according to a June report from rental platform Zumper. In some markets like San Diego, rental prices soared as much as 15 percent.

Homelessness, meanwhile, is up for the second year in a row, according to an annual report by the Department of House and Urban Development (HUD), which found that on a single night roughly 553,000 people experienced homelessness, a 0.3 percent increase from 2017. The uptick follows almost a decade of decline.

Five states, including New York and California, accounted for half of all people experiencing homelessness.

“The places that have been the worst hit over the last few years have been the places where you think of as the economy is hot, a lot of people are moving there, rents are going up,” he hold Hill.TV. "It’s basic supply and demand, so Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego."

The HUD report revealed some areas of improvement, including a decrease in homelessness among families and veterans.

Berg attributed the decline in the number of homeless veterans to better funding from the federal government.

“With veterans it’s pretty clear, the federal government funds a range of separate homeless programs through the [Department of Veterans Affairs] and those programs are just funded at a better level,” he said. “Whereas the programs for everybody else at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, are not funded at the level to meet the needs.”

— Tess Bonn