Now here is a sobering fact. For every homeless person in the US – 554,000 in all, according to HUD – there are two investor-owned houses or apartments with nobody living there. It seems that with a tip of the hat, America’s housing problem could be solved twice over.
But you can’t just put homeless people in houses. Why not? According to this column on Gritpost, rent is at an all-time high, encouraging investors to buy up ever more property. It’s a sad truth that taking real estate off the market increases demand, which in turn drives rent prices even higher. Somehow landlords find it more profitable to hold an empty property, paying taxes on it and doing basic upkeep, than to lease it for a HUD affordable rate.
Moreover, many of the properties are actually foreclosures, owned by banks. This Business Insider article points out that most foreclosures are not fit for habitation, it’s not profitable for banks to fix them up to sell. Instead, they offload the properties onto cities, sometimes razing them because the land is more valuable than the building. Meanwhile, cities have no interest in fixing up decrepit houses or building new, so they act as intermediaries to help investors find the properties. That leaves the decision to developers – and of course, developers need to make a profit, which leaves little room for the altruistic undertaking of affordable housing.
Under Title V of the McKinley-Vento Homeless Assistance Program, the federal government must make “underused” properties available to homeless advocacy organizations. A lot of good has come out of the program, including a former VA hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas that was converted into low-income apartments. But Title V doesn’t apply to the private sector. Without a motive, banks and investors continue to hold onto huge swaths of vacant real estate, and the homeless… stay homeless.