By Sarah Buck, RCAC project coordinator
Utah’s annual statewide Comprehensive Report on Homelessness was recently released and, for the first time, instead of just outlining the characteristics of the state’s homeless population, the report dug deeper into affordable housing issues. The report determined that “affordable housing is not only a key to preventing homelessness; it’s the cure to chronic homelessness.”
Studies have shown that in most cases when there is a decrease in housing affordability or availability, the homeless population in a given area goes up. And there is no doubt that Utah needs more affordable housing. According to state and federal estimates, more than 44,000 affordable housing units need to be built statewide to meet demand. For 2014, 47 percent of Utah renters could not afford a two bedroom apartment — a huge jump from 36.7 percent in 2010. Matt Minkevitch, executive director of Road Home, a private nonprofit social services agency that assists individuals and families experiencing homelessness, stated what seems to be obvious but has not been highlighted officially until now, “Housing immediately eliminates one’s homelessness. There may be a bevy of other problems that an individual is facing, but housing is a cure for homelessness.”
Utah has worked tirelessly for the past 10 years to reduce its homeless population. The overall number has decreased by 9.4 percent in the last year thanks to a partnership of government, nonprofit organizations and private entities. Attention is now focusing on the lack of affordable housing as a root cause of homelessness. According to Gordon Walker, Utah’s Department of Housing and Community Development director, it is actually cheaper to put resources into affordable housing from the start, instead of waiting until people become homeless and then trying to help them after the fact. Walker says the next step is to “convince other people, funders and other institutions, that affordable housing is a very critical component [of homelessness] because our resources to create and develop affordable housing [in Utah] are somewhat limited”.