Solving Homelessness Takes A Community

On Monday, August 8, an unprecedented occurrence happened—the City of Phoenix required people to enter into a lottery for Section 8 housing. The 10,000 people drawn from the lottery got put on a waiting list for openings. This is how hard it is to get affordable housing in Phoenix.

Many of Arizona’s extremely low-income families (making $24,000 annually for a family of four) are a job loss or financial crisis away from being unable to pay their bills, which may result in their losing housing.  Others who suffered during the Great Recession have simply struggled to get back on their feet and continue to struggle to find affordable housing.  In fact, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that Phoenix has only 18 affordable housing units available for every 100 extremely low-income households.

Our widespread and complicated homelessness problem requires, of course, a complex solution with coordination amongst government agencies, social programs, and the public at large. Using the “Housing First” model, which focuses on first moving the homeless into permanent housing and then providing other social support services, has been proven to reduce chronic homelessness.

Of course, simply being reactive to help those who have fallen into poverty and homelessness will not stop the vicious cycle of homelessness. Rather, programs like the 25-year-old federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC) incentivize the private sector to get involved, helping to fund much-needed affordable housing programs.

We have recently used the LIHTC program and other resources to produce three affordable apartment complexes around the Valley – Verde Villas in Phoenix, Ironwood Village in Glendale, and Desert Willow in Tempe.  Another community, Rosewood Court, is under construction.  These offer income-restricted housing for families, and are run Catholic Charities Community Services. Following the successful “Home First” model, residents then have coordinated access to knowledgeable staff that can help guide them to other service providers and churches that are eager to help those in need. Collectively, the permanent housing and support helps families who live there maintain sustainability and thrive, while providing economic support to the developers and other local businesses who helped to transform those apartment complexes into quality places to live.

Still, there are many who still struggle to find a place to live, as evident from the City of Phoenix Section 8 housing choice voucher waiting list lottery.  For those not selected, however, housing opportunities like those offered by the LIHTC program and Catholic Charities, will continue to provide a beacon of hope towards long-term stability.

Phoenix residents are eager to see sustainable and lasting solutions to our homelessness problem, but we need everyone’s help. First, we need to recognize the value to our community that comes from everyone having a safe and decent place to call home. Second, we need to understand that improving the quality of life for all is a worthy public purpose.  Last, individuals and businesses alike need to get involved, and see the homeless as people worthy of their support. Phoenix belongs to all of us, so let’s keep serving our homeless with solutions that get them off the streets and into a permanent home.

By: Steve Capobres, Vice President of Business Development at Catholic Charities and Treasurer of Illuminate Community Church.

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