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Number of Homeless Children at Record High Despite Robust Housing Market

Homeless families remain at record levels despite a robust housing market. Earlier this winter about 100 silent marchers memorialized the homeless who passed away during the last year.

Homeless families remain at record levels despite a robust housing market. Earlier this winter about 100 silent marchers memorialized the homeless who passed away during the last year.

Minnesota Housing Partnership's semi-annual statewide housing report came out today and it had largely good news for most of Minnesota: Fewer people are behind on their mortgages and rent, fewer people are being evicted, vacancy rates remain low despite an unprecedented construction spree, and median home prices are stable, if not slightly up, depending on where you look.

Amid all of this good news, however, two awful realities stand out. The number of homeless children identified by public school systems is at an all-time high and the elderly became the fastest growing population within shelters. See also: Silent March Through Downtown an Eeerie Reminder of Homeless Dead

Minnesota Housing Partnership Executive Director Chip Halbach said the biggest reason families become homeless is simply a lack of income combined with rising rents.

"Nine times out of ten it's due to income," he said. "For the last decade incomes of renters have fallen far behind inflation while rents stayed pretty much at inflation, and now with the tight rental market it could start climbing even faster than inflation."

According to the report, rents rose 11 percent in Minnesota over the last four years, faster than inflation.

Halbach said it's not uncommon to see families paying more than half their income toward rent, and the MHP report notes that last quarter "fewer than 3 of 5 job openings were for full-time jobs. For the open full time jobs, the median wage fell below $16/hour, from over $18/hour a year earlier. A median part-time open job pays only $10/hour, which would be inadequate for many workers to afford housing plus other basic needs."

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There are also racial disparities to consider. The Southwest Journal's recent "Homeless With Homework" project found nearly 10 percent of students in Minneapolis Public Schools are homeless, and nearly 80 percent of those students are black.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from children, Halbach said the next crisis will be among the elderly.

"The next wave of this problem is going to be with low-income seniors. More and more seniors are living on Social Security while their savings run out, and that's been the biggest population increase in the shelters, is older people," he said. "Now as we try to address the family need that's all of a sudden staring us in the face."

Minneapolis was widely praised for raising its allocation toward affordable housing above $10 million this year, but those funds are a drop in the bucket compared to federal affordable housing money, which has been declining for years, according to Halbach.

Send story tips to Ben Johnson.