How is Housing Affordability Connected to Homelessness?

Homelessness is the inevitable result of poor housing availability and affordability.

While much chronic homelessness is driven by substance abuse and mental health, the high rates of homelessness that we've recently seen develop in Western Washington is a direct result of our housing crisis. And homelessness frequently leads to substance abuse or mental health crises, or both, where they didn't previously exist.

In their new book Homelessness is a Housing Problem, University of Washington professor Gregg Colburn and data scientist Clayton Page Aldern demonstrate through statistical analysis that housing market conditions, such as the cost and availability of rental housing, are the most convincing explanation for the wide disparity in rates of homelessness among regions of the United States.

The Whatcom Housing Alliance recently featured Professor Colburn as part of their affordability video series. Although it's highly technical, watch the presentation to understand how homelessness is highly correlated with housing markets with low vacancy and low affordability.

The Precipitating Events

While housing market conditions result in homelessness, it's not explicitly the cause of any one individual's homelessness.

Many people find themselves homeless as a result of job loss, mental or physical illness, death of a family member, substance abuse, criminal convictions, eviction, or other unexpected events.

Watch the video in this section to learn how real people in Skagit County found themselves homeless.

One Man's Story

Watch this King 5 segment about Anacortes's own Ray Conger, who brought happiness to many with his inspirational signs in front of Safeway and along Commercial Avenue. Ray died homeless in 2020. Let his memory inspire us to do better.

The Solution is Housing

It's not compassionate to allow people to continue to live on the streets and in the shadows, even if some of them might choose it over some other options. It's not compassionate to shuttle people from emergency shelter to emergency shelter or motel to motel. It's not compassionate to support or facilitate addictions or let people live with untreated mental illness.

While a greater supply of market rate housing is critical for most of us to afford housing, homeless people require long-term subsidized or permanent supportive housing to get back on their feet and to rejoin society.