I was at a local park with the family last week and saw something that I hadn’t at that park. There were several people who appeared to be living there. Seeing people living in one of our city parks is nothing new, but there has been a seemingly increasing number of homeless over the past several months here in Manchester. This is, of course, disturbing on many levels, and the fact is that many families do not want to take their children to parks out of fear of harassment or the likely danger of finding dangerous objects where children play. This is not to say that the people who live in the parks are the cause of these things (they may or may not be – but the perception remains – and perception is sometimes reality).
Homelessness is not an easy issue to solve, and there are many factors including addiction and mental health that contribute to people living on the streets. In addition to those issues, which are very real and very complicated, we now have the issue of housing affordability. This is what I want to focus on. Full disclosure: I am a capitalist at heart and do not believe that we need to run to the government to solve problems. However, I am a “people first” person and see that people are suffering because of the current housing affordability situation. While the high prices and low vacancy rate may work for some, it is not working for the vast majority of people, neither business owners nor individuals.
I know that many people like to claim that they have that one solution to end homelessness. I’ve heard solutions such as “force them off the street by arresting them,” “make the bums get a job,” or “send them away.” (“Send them away” is particularly amusing to me, so in response, I generally ask, ‘send them to where?’ and usually get an answer like “anywhere but here.” Ahhh…the “not in my backyard” response…got it). I don’t believe that the issue of homelessness will be solved by sending them away or by moving them to another community. People move to Manchester because it is a city and they move here because of the conveniences, so sending people away is not going to work because there really is no “away,” especially since help and services are here in Manchester. However, people do not move to Manchester to be forced onto the streets because they cannot afford basic housing…yet that is what is happening
Quite frankly, all I’ve seen and heard is either grandstanding, the blame game, or people passing the buck, (just another form of the blame game as far as I’m concerned), and we do not need that because it is just a waste of time. People are suffering…we need solutions. Not just government solutions; not “anywhere but here” solutions; we need people to come together and come up with actual solutions. I, for one, do not want to only hear about the problem and how “something needs to be done.” What needs to be done? What is your solution? Got an idea that maybe you think would seem crazy to others? Let’s hear it…many ideas put together could result in a solution! Got a vision for something in our city that could help? Visioncasting is a great practice…and remember, vision is free!
I understand that costs are rising for everyone, contractors and developers included. I also understand that communities, such as Manchester, recently experienced significant hikes in property tax assessments. But continuing to raise rents will only add to the number of people seeking public assistance, (which raises the cost of the programs…and other things), or worse, will force more people onto the streets. There is also a ripple effect that many don’t think about. If people cannot afford housing, then they will likely not have extra money to spend on anything else, including at local businesses, which in turn gives them – and their workers – less money, (and they need to pay for housing). It’s a vicious cycle.
New development can be expensive, so let’s not focus on new development, let’s talk about existing housing stock…the structures that have been in our city for decades, (some for more than a century). How do we justify the extreme rent hikes based on taxes and some maintenance? It is fairly easy to look up the taxes of pretty much every property in the city – it’s public information that one used to have to go to City Hall to get, but thanks to technology, the information can be checked here.
So, what about solutions? Below are some ideas that have been mentioned to me. Maybe one of these – or a combination of some / all – would help solve the issue of homelessness and prevent additional people from becoming homeless.
- First, as a city, we should focus on “Housing First” programs. I have seen private and public-private partnerships with this. For example, a city council-type body could relax some permitting or give tax incentives or discounts. These programs are geared toward getting people off the streets and into housing as quickly as possible. (A great example of this is how Houston significantly reduced homelessness, versus San Diego, which tried to do it their way).
- We could rehab vacant city-owned buildings and turn them into affordable housing for families, the elderly, and the disabled. (I read that Requests for Proposals from people who want to lease the now closed Hallsville School for purposes of turning them into apartments must have included affordable housing. My hope is that it is not “just a guideline” as one alderman pointed out).
- The city could relax or drop some requirements as well as unnecessary regulations and permitting to make it less costly for property owners, who in turn could offer lower rents.
- While we’re on the subject of the city lowering the costs laid on property owners. The city could plan to re-assess property values once prices come down so that they not only pay less to the city, but they could lower rents. (Why should property owners or renters pay for 2022 values if the market drops, say 50 percent?).
- A state law could be passed that would limit the amount a landlord can raise the rent in one given time, (say no more than 10-15 percent). Further, a landlord – regardless of if there is a lease or not – could not raise rent more than once every, say, six months. This type of law is a type of “rent stabilization,” not to be confused with “rent control.”
I’m sure that there are many more ideas out there, so make them known! Let’s be more active in advocating for actual solutions before we become the city of the homeless. We can do this!