The logic behind the previous and current strategy of state funded and driven housing policy improvement is that by allowing cities and states to control and determine policy that fits with their specific need, there will be more room for innovative strategies for complex problems. The affordable housing struggle of 2018 is different than that of the 1960’s or 1980’s, and its solution may require a more creative solution that federal vouchers and subsidies equally applied based on income.
In a world of increasingly high-tech economies and evolving metropolitan areas, housing market conditions are radically different from city to city, from state to state. These changing markets leave low-income residents behind, forcing them to pay a larger and larger percentage of their household income on housing due to increased demand.
It may be more cost-effective for the federal government to develop housing strategies geared toward local differences, creating a more cost-effective way of assisting extremely low-income households based on the specifics of the housing market they currently live in (Nelson, 419). However, there is a significant risk with this approach; by decentralizing federal programs and their governance, there is an increase in complexity and conflict involved in creating effective policy to improve housing affordability and public health.
Devolution of authority makes the process of determining which level of government is accountable considerably more difficult and decreases transparency in the accountability process. These risks may sound insignificant compared to the reward of effective policies, but situations like the Flint, Michigan water crisis and the resulting lead exposure and Legionnaires’ outbreak are indicative of the importance of transparency and accountability when enacting public policy (Willison 2017).
The methodology I have chosen for this topic is a case study investigating the housing assistance policies geared toward homelessness and housing insecurity in the United Kingdom, Finland, and Australia.
Australia’s response to homelessness began like that of many countries, with a focus and emphasis on providing emergency services. This response consisted primarily of temporary housing shelters for the homeless run by nonprofit community organizations and local governments.
Eventually, homeless emergency services fell under larger state and national-based programs that offered services for domestic violence victims and families in need; this transition provided these programs with more consistent and reliable funding. The most recent policy development has been the Australian government’s launch of the National Homelessness Strategy (NHS). The creation of the NHS emerged from increasing numbers of children, families and older people experiencing homelessness, despite the overall rate of homelessness remaining relatively stable for about 12 years (The Road Home 5).
The NHS took a step in recognizing the greatest risk factors for homelessness and offering services in order to minimize the damage of homelessness or avoid it altogether. It tailors response measures to vulnerable groups that requires assistance, such as older people, children, young people, and indigenous people. The NHS goes beyond just the creation of more affordable housing, it called for government support and investment in three areas: “turning off the tap, Improving and expanding services, and breaking the cycle”.
“Turning off the tap” refers to programs that aim to prevent homelessness before it occurs by focusing on key transition points and life events at the local level. It enhances support for tenant individuals or families who may be experiencing gaps in employment or disability, and are at risk for losing their housing as a result, by negotiating temporary rent reductions with housing agents. This area also aims to support those who may become homeless as a result of mental illness or substance abuse, domestic violence, and strained family relationships.
By prioritizing care and services for those leaving child protection and juvenile justice systems, those leaving hospitals and mental health or substance abuse facilities, those leaving prison after sentences of over a year, and those currently in or leaving domestic violence shelters, the Australian government is better able to prevent anyone from being discharged into homelessness (TRH 27). These services can take the form of case workers checking in on students at risk for homelessness, therapists providing counseling and help to couples with a history of domestic violence, or medical professionals assisting with medication and local community programs for those suffering from mental illness.
“Improving and expanding services” is aimed at improving the response of widely-available and mainstream services, such as state housing authorities, employment services, health services, mental health and substance abuse services, policing and justice systems, family services, and elderly care services. In order to fulfill this goal, the Australian government has sought to improve specialist homelessness services.
These services provide accommodations for the chronically homeless and those who are homeless as the result of a crisis (40). Specialist services cannot deliver a whole and complete response to homelessness, but by integrating them with mainstream services, there is a great potential for improved outcomes. This is in addition to an increase in outreach for the homeless in rural and remote areas, and well as developing a high-quality workforce for service response staff (42).
“Breaking the cycles” programs are focused on ending homelessness for individuals permanently. Homelessness is not a static or isolated event, and many live in and out of homelessness for years. While an increase in affordable housing is a viable solution to this problem, providing longer-term accommodations would prevent people from continuously having to find new accommodations and risk being turned away (46). Once stable housing has been established for these individuals, it can be determined how much support and community services will be required. The Australian government invested $623 million to increase the supply of affordable rental housing with the possibility for more development if the demand remained strong.
As of today, the program relies heavily on data and statistics from five-yearly national cense and take into account the pathways that led to homelessness as well the cultural background of homeless individuals (Minnery and Greenhalgh 652). As a result of thorough data collection, the Australian government is developing framework to provide assistance and affordable housing in the private rental market for those who are considered low to middle income. This will act as the next step in recognizing the risks of housing insecurity and working to prevent homelessness (HA 20).
The European Union is distinct from the United States and Australia in that it is a conglomeration of member states, but it does still have a somewhat standardized system of policies regarding homelessness and housing. The Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) provides definitions for homelessness, insecure housing, and inadequate accommodations to be applied to various E.U. countries, but the way in which homeless people are enumerated and the statistics that derive from those results vary widely from country to country.
In 2000, the European Council developed a National Action Plan to eradicate poverty and social exclusion by 2010. While the first few rounds showed a lack of solutions to homelessness, with time several countries had emerging programs with possibility for success. Within the European Union, there are two countries that should be recognized and examined the United Kingdom and Finland (Minnery and Greenhalgh 648).
The United Kingdom was the only state with a statutory responsibility toward the homeless and the only state to have a task force for homelessness; there were specific responsibilities placed on local authorities for rehousing families and groups who were not intentionally homeless. Much like in Australia, the United Kingdom recognized potential pathways to homelessness and prioritized services to those leaving other forms of care, institutions, or facilities.
However, this approach did have the unintended consequence of discrimination within homelessness; by prioritizing “unintentional” homelessness, single homeless individuals did not seek assistance from service agencies out of fear that their need wouldn’t be considered priority or to avoid being judged or tested to determine if they deserved assistance (Minnery and Greenhalgh 649).
More recently, the United Kingdom reformed it homelessness legislation through the Homelessness Reduction Act of 2017. It placed responsibility for early stage intervention in preventing homelessness on local authorities. The Act also required housing authorities to provide services to all those affected by homelessness, not only those with “priority need”.
The services provided include extended prevention assistance from housing authorities and support in securing accommodations during this period. If homelessness is not prevented or relieved, it is the responsibility of the housing authority to provide suitable accommodation to those who are homeless unintentionally (UK GOV 2018). The current policies and legislation geared toward homelessness in the United Kingdom has improved, but still contains the potential for discrimination of need.
Finland has addressed the issue of homelessness by taking an approach opposite of most countries, including the previously examined United Kingdom, Australia, and United States. In 2008, an integrated Finnish national homelessness strategy was launched and sought to deliver 1250 new residences and supported housing units while replacing emergency shelters with supported housing that offered permanent tenancies.
This “housing first” or “housing-led” approach offers permanent residences to homeless individuals without them having to live in the streets, shelters, transition housing units, or independent apartments initially. Most policies addressing homelessness require those seeking assistance to sort out job loss, family breakdown, mental illness, or substance abuse before permanent housing is an option; the Finnish approach operates under the assumption that tackling social and health problems is easier when permanent housing is provided.
Tenants are granted a variety of housing, such as self-contained apartments or a housing block with continuous support depending on need. These tenants pay rent and contribute to the cost of their care if their income allows for it, but whatever they are unable to pay is provided for by the government (World Economic Forum 2018). The first phase of the Finnish strategy is reducing the number of homeless individuals was considered to be broadly effective, reducing long-term homelessness levels by 28% within three years (strategy review 99).
The second phase of the strategy was focused on homelessness prevention, rather than long-term homelessness elimination. It offered expanded housing advice services and a clear focus on “hidden” forms of homelessness. Hidden forms of homelessness include individuals temporarily or insecurely living with friends, acquaintances, or family due to not having a home of their own.