One of the most important causes of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. That’s why part of the solution must be creating more affordable housing.
The causes of homelessness are complex. While the combination of events and factors that leads to homelessness is unique for each family, there are also systemic issues that impact many families. One of the most important systemic causes of homelessness across the country, particularly here in Dane County, is a lack of affordable housing.
Affordable housing is defined as housing that requires less than 30% of the household income. Households that spend more than that are said to be “cost-burdened.” A report by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty entitled “Rental Housing Affordability in Dane County” showed that nearly 50% of households in Madison were cost-burdened. The main cause is that occupancy rates are high while the number of low-rent units are low. After 2010, the vacancy rate in Madison plummeted, reaching a low of under 2% in 2015 (a healthy rate is considered 5-7%). This drives up housing prices. Another cause is that the median income in Wisconsin has decreased while housing prices have increased.
These factors have created a housing gap in Dane County, or a gap between housing units available at an affordable price compared to those needed in the community. In fact, researchers estimate there is a gap of between 7,000 and 27,000 housing units currently and predict that, without significant intervention, the number will increase. When housing gaps occur, people can’t find housing that meets their needs. They must either move into housing they can’t afford, double up with others, or live in housing that is either too small or substandard. Some vulnerable families become homeless. Read more here.
Here at The Road Home we believe in the importance of communities investing in affordable housing as a solution to homelessness. We work with partners in our community to create additional affordable housing. We currently are involved in ten housing programs. For example, in 2018 we worked with Stone House Development with support from the City of Madison to open The Breese which provides nine three-bedroom units for larger families. Heart Room, another recently launched project that pulls together many community partners, provides housing for six families. We are very excited about new programs that will be opening in the future including Fair Oaks apartments which will make eight three-bedroom affordable housing units available in early 2020. Thank you for your support that makes programs like these possible and helps address the housing gap in our community.