McKellogg Housing/Homelessness Q2
While affordable housing for middle-income working people like teachers and first responders gets some attention, very little attention is paid to housing affordability/access for low wage workers – particularly those who are overcoming high barriers to return to or join the workforce (e.g. the populations served by REDF’s portfolio of employment social enterprises). The cost-benefit to society of keeping working people with low-incomes housed and employed should get more attention (e.g. reduced recidivism to incarceration, preventing/limiting the duration of homelessness). The Mathematica Jobs Study, for example, demonstrated that for every $1 spent by an employment social enterprise which employs individuals overcoming barriers to work, societal benefits total $2.23. University of Pennsylvania and other research has estimated that people who are incur $40,000 per year in public expense. The state has estimated the cost of one year in a California prison at $81,000.
Two approaches to housing people facing homelessness with low incomes are increasing temporary shelters and increasing short-term rental assistance. Shelters provide a concentration of support services and potentially prevent a dramatic decline in a person’s mental and physical health once they are living on the streets. Short term rental assistance provides financial support to keep people in their current housing situation. Currently, LA County has been overly focused on creating more affordable housing units and has lacked an interim support stage with shelters.
In light of the costs that are being incurred in part due to housing unaffordability, more attention should be focused on approaches which solidify the housing-employment virtuous cycle for people with barriers who utilize affordable housing. A challenge faced by affordable housing providers is the gap between below market rate rental rates they charge and the market-rate expenses to operate affordable housing units. One approach is to employ residents of affordable housing units through social enterprise to provide many of the front desk, maintenance and janitorial, and security services otherwise procured at for-profit prices.
LA:RISE is a partnership between city and county of Los Angeles with philanthropy and non-profit partners to employ thousands of homeless residents through social enterprise. This multi-year public-private partnership recently expanded to encompass bridge housing (A Bridge Home) through a temporary facility on City-owned properties to quickly bring homeless Angelenos off the streets and help them rebuild their lives. Bridge housing offers 24/7 security and on-site services like case management, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and housing placement to help residents stabilize their lives, move on to permanent housing, and stay off the streets for good. The goal of the partnership between A Bridge Home and LA:RISE/social enterprises is to provide paid transitional employment opportunities and support services to residents.