July 19, 2018 / 12:41 AM / 3 months ago

Tents, tiny houses no substitute for homes: U.S. official

SEATTLE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tents and tiny houses cropping up across the United States to shelter homeless people are only temporary measures that should not deter from the longer term goal of permanent housing, a top government housing official said on Wednesday.

With homelessness on the rise, more cities are experimenting with encampments on public land and with houses as small as garden sheds that provide shelter to needy people, experts say.

Homelessness in the United States rose last year for the first time since 2010, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Short-term steps must be balanced with “what is ultimately going to end people’s homelessness,” Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

“Getting people connected to permanent housing with services is what works,” he said. The Council on Homelessness advises federal agencies and local governments.

In the expensive housing market of Seattle, only about one in five people who lived in the city’s six tiny house villages moved into permanent housing last year, according to data analyzed by the Seattle Times newspaper.

Addressing homelessness calls for such solutions as subsidized apartments alongside building encampments, Doherty said.

“We need to do all we can to shake out every single housing opportunity within the current market ... but we also need to address the supply of housing that people at a wide variety of incomes can afford,” he said.

Housing costs are skyrocketing in cities such as San Francisco, where a family of four with an income of $117,000 US qualifies as low income and eligible for housing subsidies.

“I don’t want to undersell the challenge that some of these communities face because they are clearly facing true housing crises and truly very difficult markets,” Doherty said.

Places with booming high-tech sectors like San Francisco and Seattle are experimenting with taxes on businesses whose high salaries have contributed to higher housing prices.

Seattle passed such a tax in May but opposition from Amazon.com and other employers led the city council to repeal the measure a month later.

San Francisco voters will consider a similar initiative on the November ballot as will residents of Mountain View, Google’s hometown.

Reporting by Gregory Scruggs, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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