PHILADELPHIA, PA - Temple University students worked with SafeHome Philadelphia this semester to find affordable housing within the community for Philadelphia's homeless families. By searching rental listings, calling landlords, and in some cases, driving through neighborhoods, the students found 442 available and affordable housing units that could be used to house most of the 500 Philadelphia families who are living in shelter.
Source: SafeHome Philadelphia
The goal was to show the city that affordable, private-market housing already exists within the community and that reinvesting shelter resources in housing, supports, and subsidies is cheaper, more effective, and more humane than housing families in shelter. The project stemmed from SafeHome's Executive Director Phyllis Ryan Jackson's belief that if affordable housing did not exist in Philadelphia, the numbers of homeless would be much higher, as they are in New York and Los Angeles.
Ms. Ryan Jackson says, "It was always puzzling to me that if it were true that there was absolutely no safe and affordable housing available for homeless families -- as is commonly reported -- why wasn't Philadelphia's homeless family population skyrocketing every year? City reports show the number to be remarkably stable over the years, which suggests to me that by employing Housing First strategies like rapid re-housing or prevention, we could truly empty our shelters."
Units ranged from one to seven bedrooms and were in areas including North, South, and West Philadelphia, as well as Germantown, Kensington, and Port Richmond. The average rent was $668 per month. Yearly rental cost, on average, was $8,684 including security deposit. Providing subsidies for the housing, as well as home-based supports and linkages to community-based social services, would cost the city far less than the $35,000 per year it pays to house a family in shelter.
The students were enrolled in Sociology Professor Anne Shlay's Housing and Inequality course. Professor Shlay worked with Ms. Ryan Jackson and Ruth Holland, SafeHome's Housing Advocate, to design the project. In describing the process, Professor Shlay said, "Each student was assigned a neighborhood based on our sense of the likelihood based on U.S. Census and other data that there would be more reasonably priced rental housing in these communities. Students conducted research on 29 neighborhoods."
SafeHome Philadelphia is a Housing First initiative that finds housing for homeless families, helps with the upfront costs of moving, including last month's rent and security deposit, connects families to community-based social services, and works with them to create stability. Ms. Holland visited Professor Shlay's class during the semester and offered advice on finding housing. Ms. Holland has found affordable, community-based housing for the 61 families enrolled in SafeHome, and she has offered most families a choice of three homes.
Ms. Holland is currently contacting landlords on the students' housing list and visiting the units they found. She plans to offer some of the units as rental options to SafeHome's next group of twenty families, who will begin moving into homes in the next couple of weeks. "Affordable housing is out there," Ms. Holland said. "It's true you have to look for it, but there's no lack of it."
SafeHome Philadelphia maintains that if the city follows the Housing First model, placing families in the affordable, private-market housing that already exists within the community, connecting them to community-based social services, and providing them with any needed home-based supports, homeless individuals and families will be spared the detrimental effects of shelter, and their experience of homelessness will be either prevented or quickly and affordably ended.