The current housing climate leaves millions of Americans at risk of housing instability or homelessness – and it is those who are living with mental and physical health challenges that are the most vulnerable. As communities battle the ever-escalating “cost-of-living” and a rising economic crisis across the country, we need to invest in – and defend against misinformation – the one solution we know works to end homelessness: permanent supportive housing.
Permanent supportive housing, especially with workforce development programming, is an evidence-based model to help vulnerable residents recover. Countless studies over the decades have shown that the care and security provided to supportive housing residents is the best way to address chronic homelessness.
Expanding the supply of permanent supportive housing should be a foundational goal of lawmakers, elected officials, and community leaders everywhere – we will never have the robust housing social safety net Americans deserve without it.
First, though, it is worth taking a broader perspective. America is currently experiencing a shortage of about 7.3 million rental homes1 affordable and available to renters earning meager incomes, to say nothing of dwindling homeownership opportunities. This is a function of rigid land use policies restricting supply and creating more expensive housing.
In New York, where my organization, Concern Housing, currently operates, a person must work 98 hours a week1 on minimum wage to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home. That is not tenable for many households, and the high cost of housing – as foundational an expense as it gets – diverts resources away from other critical areas, like health care and education.
The story typically ends there, but much more is to be said. Lost in the shuffle are our most vulnerable neighbors – those who have been housing insecure for years or who may have been grappling with the rise of increasingly addictive and potent narcotics like fentanyl.
When the entire market is squeezed, where should these residents turn if fewer homes are available? And should we be surprised if these challenges are exacerbated without the security of steady, secure housing?
As such, to help build a new housing safety net that can respond to the increasing needs of all our neighbors, we need a plan that will create more affordable housing everywhere, as well as permanent supportive housing to treat those with especially acute needs. The result will be a rising tide that lifts all boats.
For one, affordable housing investment can boost an individual’s physical health just as much as financial health. Access has been proven to improve mental and physical health outcomes2 by freeing up family resources for food and healthcare expenditures. Stable housing access may also improve health outcomes2 for individuals with chronic illnesses by providing an efficient healthcare delivery platform. Meanwhile, well-constructed and maintained affordable housing can reduce health problems associated with poor-quality housing.
Permanent supportive housing – which is affordable housing with onsite services for individuals living with a disability or who have previously experienced homelessness – provides an even more robust care model. Connection to supportive housing is the number one way to reduce chronic homelessness, with only 5% of all tenants3 returning to the street or shelters. It also can provide the direct physical and mental healthcare resources that individuals need to thrive in their new environment – simultaneously cutting costs for care and housing. It proves that housing is essential to healthcare.
Permanent supportive and affordable housing creation also works to counteract systemic discrimination and racism in our zoning system. Take my home state of New York as an example, where New York City consistently ranks4 as one of the most segregated cities in the United States, in part due to the state’s land use policies that prevent multi-family and affordable development. The history of redlining – which denied communities of color from access to housing options – lives on through a lack of affordable housing, particularly in “high-opportunity” neighborhoods. Without amending zoning regulations to encourage affordable and multi-family development, towns will continue the cycle of racial segregation that prevents economic mobility among marginalized communities.
And development spurs economic investment into communities. During construction, 100 units of affordable housing generates5 about 121 construction jobs, 65 indirect jobs, and $46 million in economic spending. On average, after a building is complete, it generates about $10 million in economic spending annually, along with 32 permanent jobs. Five years after the completion of a supportive housing building, the prices of those nearby properties experience solid and steady financial growth6. Over time, the economic impact of the buildings practically pays for themselves, all while also connecting tenants with affordable housing rents that are just not available in the market right now.
On top of the jobs these projects create, when paired with workforce development for tenants within the building, these projects extend the economic impact of the building. Many affordable and supportive housing units in New York also include access to career development programs, which will grant tenants an on-ramp to financial empowerment and encourage economic participation.
This is a mountain of academic evidence, but it is hardly invisible. We see it every day at Concern Housing, where we’ve been building and managing buildings like these for 50 years.
Consider Surf Vets Place on Coney Island. The apartments opened in 2019, bringing 135 affordable and permanent supportive housing units for veterans and families with low-income backgrounds. About 10% of these units are reserved and accessible to people with hearing or visual impairments.
Then, this October, Concern helped start construction on a bagel shop called Cyclone Bagels that will employ veterans, with priority hiring given to residents of Surf Vets Place. We have partnered with BYOB Bagels – a non-franchised independent business – to help provide job and skills training. It’s an example of maximizing all space to provide a true continuum of care that will uplift our residents and provide value to the entire Coney Island community. Although this is just one example of impactful development, Surf Vets Place represents the broader continuum of care that permanent supportive housing can provide to its tenants and neighborhood.
Despite the anecdotal and peer-reviewed evidence showing that housing – particularly affordable and permanent supportive housing – is a net benefit to everyone and a vital tool for helping others thrive, we still face intense “Not In My Backyard” opposition to proposals to emulate this formula.
At times, these opponents enact harmful language against residents of these buildings. There is a false sentiment that “low-income tenants” would affect property values or that new development would disrupt the town by causing crime or other disturbances and other beliefs rooted in years of racism and discrimination.
These claims help perpetuate the very systems that caused housing insecurity in the first place and stand in the way of the healing and growth we need to move past it. As community members who care deeply about the well-being of our neighbors, it is our shared responsibility to overcome these narratives and fight for the fundamental right of shelter.
After all, if we are ever to truly end our housing crisis and ensure the fundamental human right of housing, we will need to dramatically scale the affordable and permanent supportive housing that we know works, including workforce programming.
This process will not be easy. It will require collaboration and compromise and facing misinformation head-on. But the facts are on our side – and through a concerted effort and a focus on the communal benefit that investment can bring, we can change our communities for the better, one home at a time.
To reach Mr. Fasano, call (631) 758-0474 and visit Concern Housing at www.concernhousing.org.
Been, V., Ellen, I. G., Gedal, M., &; Voicu, I. (2008). The Impact of Supportive Housing on Surrounding Neighborhoods: Evidence from New York City. NYU Furman Center. doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.998722
Gyourko, J. & Molloy, R. (2015). Regulation and housing supply. Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, 1289–1337. ideas.repec.org/h/eee/regchp/5-1289.html
HR&A. (2012). Economic Impacts of Affordable Housing on New York State’s Economy.
Maqbool, N., Viveiros, J., &; Ault, M. (2015, April). The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health: A Research Summary. INSIGHTS from Housing Policy Research. www.nhc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/The-Impacts-of-Affordable-Housing-on-Health-A-Research-Summary.pdf
National Low Income Housing Coalition. (2023). Out of Reach. www.nlihc.org/oor
Othering & Belonging Institute. (2020). Most to Least Segregated Cities in the US. www.belonging.berkeley.edu/most-least-segregated-cities
The Supportive Housing Network of New York. (2022). Reinvest, Recover, Revitalize: Supportive Housing Solutions for a Better New York. www.shnny.org/images/uploads/2022_Network_NYC_Policy_Platform.pdf
- National Low Income Housing Coalition. (2023). Out of Reach. nlihc.org/oor
- Maqbool, N., Viveiros, J., &; Ault, M. (2015, April). The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health: A Research Summary. INSIGHTS from Housing Policy Research. nhc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/The-Impacts-of-Affordable-Housing-on-Health-A-Research-Summary.pdf
- The Supportive Housing Network of New York. (2022). Reinvest, Recover, Revitalize: Supportive Housing Solutions for a Better New York. shnny.org/images/uploads/2022_Network_NYC_Policy_Platform.pdf
- Othering & Belonging Institute. (2020). Most to Least Segregated Cities in the US, belonging.berkeley.edu/most-least-segregated-cities
- HR&A. (2012). Economic Impacts of Affordable Housing on New York State’s Economy. www.hraadvisors.com/hra-report-explores-impacts-of-affordable-housing-on-new-york-states-economy/
- Been, V., Ellen, I. G., Gedal, M., &; Voicu, I. (2008). The Impact of Supportive Housing on Surrounding Neighborhoods: Evidence from New York City. NYU Furman Center. doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.998722