Mapping America’s Intractable Homelessness Problem

America has an enduring homelessness problem, with incredible human and economic costs. When they’re acknowledged, homeless people are routinely shunned and criminalized, and often considered less than human. But even folks who want to help often find it hard to wrap their heads around the complex issue.

That’s where Gretchen Keillor’s new data project comes in. Keillor, an urban planner at the design firm Sasaki, wants to break the issue of homelessness down into simple, digestible parts through snazzy data visualizations. “As a planner, I think we should be taking a stronger responsibility in responding to this problem and integrating [homeless people] into the fabric of the city,” she says.

The first section of Keillor’s project presents the fundamentals of the issue. It gives a brief historical snapshot of homelessness in America, and contains answers to basic questions (who qualifies as a homeless person?) as well as more complex ones (what causes someone to become homeless?). By laying out this information in short lists and catchy infographics, Keillor hopes that concerned citizens, planners, and policymakers can dispel some common myths. “Homeless people aren’t this other demographic—they’re just people,” Keillor says. Contrary to what some may think, for example, it’s not laziness and lack of motivation that puts these people on the street, but usually a combination of systemic issues and bad luck. In fact, one of the biggest factors behind the phenomenon is the lack of affordable housing.

If the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts were to become a reality, homelessness in the U.S. would likely rise to levels not seen in nearly 30 years. That’s concerning, given how stubbornly persistent this problem already is in many parts of the country, a fact that the second part of Keillor’s project supports. Among other visualizations, it includes an interactive dot-map of the U.S. homeless population by region, state, and county based on government data. One dot represents five people:

Places with more people also have more homeless people, which is one reason some of those coastal cities have such dense pockets in the map above. But the project also lets viewers add in other layers economic, sociological, geographic, and demographic data. So, we can see the distribution of the homeless, color-coded by density (number of homeless per 100,000 people), for example. The bright red area around Las Vegas isn’t surprising—the city has the largest affordable housing deficit in the country.

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Originally written by Tanvi Misra in City Lab

Can Tiny Houses In People’s Backyards Help Alleviate The Homelessness Crisis?

“WE DON’T WANT PEOPLE STAYING IN SHELTERS FOR TWO YEARS”

Portland and the county it sits in, Multnomah, have been working on the issue of homelessness for years. In 2016, the city committed to adding 650 new shelter beds to make a total of 1,240. A recently approved $258 million bond measure will fund 1,300 new units of affordable housing, but those units won’t be ready for at least two years. In the meantime, the county thinks that new backyard houses could be one way to help small families–such as a single mother and a child or two–get off the street.

 

Continue reading at Fast Company

Originally written by Adele Peters in Fast Company

 

How Seattle Is Dismantling a NIMBY Power Structure

Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Director Kathy Nyland (Credit: The Rose Center for Public Leadership)

For decades, activist homeowners have held virtual veto power over nearly every decision on Seattle’s growth and development.

In large and small ways, these homeowners, who tend to be white, more affluent and older than the average resident, have shaped neighborhoods in their reflection — building a city that is consistently rated as one of the nation’s most livable, as well as one of its most expensive.

Now — in the face of an unprecedented housing crisis and a dramatic spike in homelessness — that may be starting to change.

Last July, Mayor Ed Murray and the director of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, Kathy Nyland, announced that Seattle was cutting formal ties with, and funding for, the 13 volunteer Neighborhood District Councils that had been the city’s chief sounding boards on neighborhood planning since the 1990s. Through this bureaucratic sleight of hand, Murray and Nyland signaled their intent to seek more input and feedback from lower-income folks, people of color and renters — who now make up 54 percent of the city — and away from the white baby boomers who have long dominated discussions about Seattle’s future. The message: We appreciate your input, but we’re going to get a second opinion.

A few months later, the Department of Neighborhoods doubled down on its commitment to community engagement, putting out a call for volunteers to serve on a new 16-member Community Involvement Commission, which will be charged with helping city departments develop “authentic and thorough” ways to reach “all” city residents, including underrepresented communities such as low-income people, homeless residents and renters. Finally, DON will also oversee and staff a second new commission, the Seattle Renters’ Commission, which will advise all city departments on policies that affect renters and monitor the enforcement and effectiveness of the city’s renter protection laws.

The shakeup has rattled traditional neighborhood groups, which have grown accustomed to outsized influence at City Hall, and invigorated some groups that have long felt ignored and marginalized by the city.

The shift toward a more inclusive neighborhoods department, and neighborhood planning process, is more than just symbolic; it’s political. The homeowner-dominated neighborhood councils have typically argued against land use changes that would allow more density (in the form of townhouses and apartment buildings) in and near Seattle’s traditional single-family neighborhoods, which make up nearly two-thirds of the city. Including more renters and low-income people in the mix could dilute, or even upend, those groups’ agendas.

Continue reading at Next City

Originally written by Erica C. Barnettin Next City

 

Good Schools, Affordable Homes: Finding Suburban Sweet Spots

For better or worse, it’s common for city-dwelling families that reach a certain size to make the leap to the suburbs for more space and better schools.

But even among comparable suburban neighborhoods, seemingly arbitrary school district boundaries can lead to huge differences in price. There are many factors in a home price, of course, but economists have estimated that within suburban neighborhoods, a 5 percent improvement in test scores can raise prices by 2.5 percent. And for many cities, this is largely the pattern — prices rise with school quality. But there are some districts that break this pattern: schools that deliver on quality with homes that are relatively cheap.

Using home price data from Redfin, a national real estate brokerage, and school quality data based on test scores from the Stanford Education Data Archive, we developed a set of charts that look at school quality, home price and commute. For instance, in the Boston area (where many suburban school districts are considered first-rate), more expensive school districts like Brookline, Mass., tend to have strong scores and relatively short commutes. Equally good districts, like Lexington, may be cheaper, but people living there face longer commutes.

But in some areas – particularly a handful of dense cities with good public transit – the preference for being in the city center seems to outweigh the importance of school quality by a huge margin. Homes in central city locations are generally more valued than those farther out, and prices in the urban locations have risen far faster than in the suburbs since 2000.

The Bay Area is the most extreme case: Homes in the central city carry such a huge premium that buyers in suburban cities like Albany and San Ramon end up paying several hundred dollars less per square foot even though the schools are significantly better than those in San Francisco.

Continue reading at The Upshot

Originally written by in The Upshot