Homelessness, income disparity and housing costs rise

Family homelessness, income disparity and the number of households burdened by housing costs increased in the last year as Connecticut remains one of the most expensive states in which to own or rent a home, according to a report issued by the Partnership for Strong Communities Monday.

homeless chart

The partnership used data compiled by a number of agencies in forming the report, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH), the Connecticut Housing Coalition, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Christy Rubenstein, a senior policy analyst for the Partnership, said the homelessness data was one of the most striking issues.

“There’s been a change in the demographic of homelessness,” she said. “There are more families attending shelters and a lot of adults pointed out that it was their first experience being homeless. I think it shows how the economic downturn is affecting everyone.”

CCEH found the number of homeless families, or unsheltered adults with children, rose 15 percent between 2010 and 2011. CCEH measured homelessness in the state on one night in January 2011, called its “Point in Time Count.” The PIT count showed a total of 4,451 homeless people in one night, an overall 8 percent increase since 2009.

Rubenstein said homelessness proves a multifaceted issue and with more families seeking help, shelters need to meet different needs.

“Consider a 68-year-old homeless man who’s been homeless for 20 years and compare it to a homeless family with three children,” she said. “They have different needs.”

The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), administered by CCEH, showed Connecticut’s homeless shelters operating at full capacity in 2010. The partnership also used data from the United Way of Connecticut’s 2-1-1 Infoline and its requests received for housing services, from homeless shelters to rent payment assistance. Requests rose to 90,074 in 2010 from 72,251 in 2009 and based on requests received through August, United Way of Connecticut predicts a higher number for 2011.

Rubenstein said a complete number of homeless people proves hard to quantify because PIT, HMIS and United Way of Connecticut only count the numbers attending shelters.

“These numbers don’t count the people who we call ‘bubbled up,’ or living with friends and family,” she said. “Consider also the homeless youth who are couch surfing and avoiding being placed in the system by DCF [Department of Children and Families]. We consider these people homeless, too.”

She said chronic homelessness, or repeated homelessness over a number of years, also increased by 26 percent among single adults since 2009.

“Some of this could be attributed to more families using the shelters,” she said. “If more families use the shelters, more single adults get pushed out.”

Income disparity also widened in 2010, providing no relief for those teetering on the edge homelessness and living in unaffordable housing. The lowest household income for 20 percent of state residents in 2010 fell to $13,696 from $14,525 in 2009. The highest paid 20 percent of state residents made an average of $233,617 in 2010, down from $238,354 in 2009.

“Connecticut has some of the highest incomes per capita and still one of the greatest records of income disparity in the nation,” Rubenstein said. “When that happens, all kinds of weird things will come out of the housing market.”

The report showed more people looking to rent, driving up rental prices, while median incomes and housing prices declined. Even though housing prices dropped, a lower median income still makes owning a home unaffordable in many cases, driving people to rent property.

Fifty-one percent of Connecticut renters and 37 percent of home owners spent 30 percent of their income on housing, the report showed. The Partnership’s current report and a report put out in August deem 112 of 169 communities “unaffordable” for families earning the state’s medium income and paying for a median-priced home. About 27 percent of households proved severely burdened by renting costs, spending almost 50 percent of their income on rent.

Rubenstein said the current administration earned the partnership’s approval by spending $130 million on developing more affordable housing.

“The current administration has been great with this,” she said.

She said the state still needs to continue investing in the state’s Rental Assistance Program offered by the Department of Social Services, while investing in new affordable housing initiatives. The report cautioned that a shifting housing market could mean much of Connecticut’s current stock of affordable housing may not meet future needs.