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New England Research Ties Homelessness to Rental Housing Costs

The rate of homelessness in Maine falls in line with the national average. (Max Pixel/Creative Commons)
The rate of homelessness in Maine falls in line with the national average. (Max Pixel/Creative Commons)
December 17, 2018

PORTLAND, Maine — New research shows that while homelessness in the United States may be down overall, it's still rising in the most expensive rental markets. And homelessness in Maine is in line with the national average.

Christopher Glynn, assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire, is one of the lead authors of the national Zillow-sponsored study. The researchers analyzed how people's share of spending on housing in each market correlates to homelessness - and Glynn said they found a specific economic tipping point.

"The thing that surprised us most was that, when a community exceeds 32 percent of its median income on its median housing cost, you see a sharp increase in the expected homeless rate in that community,” Glynn said.

They found that troubling combination of high housing costs and high rates of homelessness in four eastern cities - Atlanta, Boston, New York and, Washington, D.C. - and in most metropolitan areas on the West Coast.

Glynn said Maine and most of New England's homelessness rates are comparable to the national average.

"Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts - those are intermediate communities,” he said. “They don't have the highest housing costs; they don't have the lowest housing costs. They're somewhere in the middle."

Even so, the National Alliance to End Homelessness says nearly 2,300 people are homeless on any given night in Maine.

Glynn pointed to Houston, Texas, as a model city for addressing housing needs, by combining housing with other social services.

"Houston has been very successful in reducing its homeless population for the last six or seven years,” he said. “Houston has put a lot of emphasis on a program called Housing First. And they've been working to coordinate all their efforts across the city to be able to reduce the homeless population."

The study was done in partnership with Zillow, Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME