Place and time can have a dramatic impact on homelessness rates. While there are likely many contributing factors, changes in the cost of affordable housing and the number of employment opportunities likely affect the number of individuals experiencing homelessness annually. Individual factors, such as substance abuse, medical conditions, educational obtainment, and [lack of] social support often determine who experiences homelessness, but community-level factors likely dictate how many individuals experience homelessness (McChesney, 1990; Shinn and Gillespie, 1994).
To date, little is known regarding the longitudinal associations among rental prices, employment opportunities, and homelessness rates in major US cities. Cities that have experienced dramatic increases in rental rates also report sharp rises in homelessness, despite substantial investment in social services. For example, in 2007, Seattle’s fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $710, but by 2015, this rate had ballooned to $1,246 (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2016). Over this same time, homelessness rates in Seattle jumped by 28%. Conversely, cities that have reported very modest rental increases since 2007 (e.g., Houston, TX, $138 increase and Fresno, CA, $99 increase) reported substantial decreases in homelessness over this same period.
While the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness has decreased nationally since 2007, it is unclear whether these declines are the result of more effective prevention and intervention programs or due to contextual changes, such as changes in rental rates, employment opportunities, or other community-level factors. This study will present findings based on archival and primary survey data to examine associations between community-level changes in rental prices and employment opportunities over time and changes in the number of individuals identified in annual point-in-time counts in 50 major US cities between 2007 and 2015. It will then present how these changes align with self-reported causes of homelessness at the individual level.