Homelessness drops, along with home ownership
Updated 6:14 pm, Thursday, November 30, 2017
Connecticut’s efforts to create more affordable housing and get people off the streets has resulted in a sharp, 8-percent decline in homelessness since 2015, according to a new study by the Hartford-based nonprofit Partnership for Strong Communities.
The report credits the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with “remarkable progress,” creating 10,000 units of affordable housing since Malloy took office in 2011. Those classified as chronically homeless, with disabilities of varying kinds, have decreased by 62 percent over the last three years, the report says.
The 10,083 homeless people found in 2016 was a five-year low, the report said.
“Connecticut is a leader in trying to end homelessness in a systematic way,” said Sean Ghio, policy director for Partnership for Strong Communities. “The fact of the matter is that the administration and the Legislature have been appropriating the funds and they have really focused on the homeless.”
While overall housing affordability has increased slightly, the report warns that millenials laboring under the nation’s fourth-highest education debt — more than $33,300 each, on average — may weaken the market because they are putting off buying homes. Evidence shows a major shift to rental housing, says the report, which was released Thursday morning.
Homeless singles use about $33,000 per year in public services; and a family experiencing homelessness will utilize about $120,000 per year in public services. Up to 70 percent of those costs can be saved when towns and cities invest in affordable housing.
It costs about $10,000 per year to ensure access to stable housing for an individual experiencing homelessness about $15,000 per year for a family experiencing homelessness.
*Source: Connecticut Department of Housing
The number of families owning homes in the state has fallen 8 percent from 2015, to 879,073 units, while rental prices have risen from $1,108 a month in 2015 to $1,115. Median monthly housing costs fell 2 percent to $1,366, but Connecticut still ranks sixth highest among the states. Over the last 10 years, renters have increased from 30 percent of all households to 35 percent or 478,196 households.
Ghio singled out Fairfield and Norwalk, in particular, in making major housing initiatives, especially at a time when more people cannot afford single-family homes and the supply is short on the denser, more-affordable homes that market craves.
“Affordable housing has been something Fairfield committed to 25-30 years ago,” said that town’s first selectman, Michael Tetreau, stressing that there are a number of affordable housing complexes, plus Operation Hope, for those making the transition from homelessness.
“We’ve made commitments at multiple levels,” Tetreau said. “One of the challenges for us, as a mature community with the cost of land so high, is that millenials and new buyers in the market don’t want big houses on big lots.”
Two major new Fairfield housing developments are rentals, close to the Post Road.
“People want to live closer to downtown,” Tetreau said.
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said hundreds of new apartments in his city include 10 percent that are classified as affordable units.
“I believe the numbers are trending in a positive direction, because the state has made an enormous effort toward affordable housing, leveraging tens of millions of private dollars,” Duff.
“There are people who say affordable housing is not an economic driver, but all the evidence would suggest otherwise,” he said. “If Connecticut is going to grow its economy, we need to invest in housing that people can afford to live in.”
Evonne Klein, commissioner of the state Department of Housing, said her agency calculates 20,000 units of housing completed since 2011, with about 18,500 affordable units either funded, under construction, or completed.
“As we continue to do work in the department, we want municipalities and developers to build multi-family housing and rental housing,” Klein said. “We want flexibility for market rates and affordable rates at all income levels. We want to keep seniors in the community, as well as our work force and young families.”
Jason Novak, deputy press secretary for Malloy, said the governor has recognized that ending homelessness is good fiscal policy as well as a social and moral goal.
“By investing in housing and intervention, we’ve become the first state to end chronic veteran homelessness, one of only three states to end all veteran homelessness, and are the only state to have matched all chronically homeless individuals to housing — all while saving taxpayers money,” Novak said. “Additionally, we are well on our way toward our goal of ending youth and family homelessness by 2020.”
Willie Thomas Miller Jr. was homeless in the Bridgeport area after spending more than 18 years in prison in Texas. But now he says he’s off drugs, applying for recovery support specialist jobs and has a roof over his head, thanks to the Operation Hope shelter, The Connection Inc. service program and the Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust.
“They always tried to plug me into different organizations that help senior citizens, and they did a heck of a job doing that,” Miller said of Operation Hope. After almost three months at the shelter, The Connection Inc. was able to get him into his one bedroom apartment on Freeman Street and into an inpatient program to treat his addiction.
Helen McAlinden, a social worker with The Connection Inc. who helped Miller find housing, said it is the combination of services and stable housing that turn things around for those who are homeless.
“Housing is no good to somebody... who has had issues and been unhoused for many years, without supportive services to help them get back on their feet,” she said.
Staff writer Sophia Kunthara contributed to this report.