Katie Hill: Homelessness will need to be addressed nationwide

Katie Hill, Executive Director and Deputy CEO of PATH, a statewide nonprofit organization working to end homelessness presents the benefits of Measure H during a debate in Feb. 2017. Dan Watson/The Signal

This week’s turnout of nearly 40 people for Santa Clarita’s Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness was an encouraging display of commitment to take care of our own, and much of that meeting centered on making effective use of Measure H funds.

Signal reporter Gina Ender quoted me saying that Measure H alone can’t fix the problem of homelessness that has been decades in the making. Although I was a huge advocate for Measure H, I stand by the statement; in fact, it’s one of the reasons I am running for Congress.

I’ve worked on issues surrounding homelessness my entire career – starting at the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, where we helped young people exiting foster care, gangs, or the criminal justice system (sometimes all of the above) to get the job skills, education, and community support they needed to beat the odds and become productive members of society.

For the past seven-plus years I have been with PATH (People Assisting The Homeless), the largest nonprofit in California working to address homelessness in our communities, and now serve as its executive director. We have helped more than 7,000 veterans, families, and chronically homeless individuals move off the streets and into permanent homes.

Our leadership has also been actively involved in developing and passing Proposition HHH and Measure H. These groundbreaking ballot initiatives, which passed by huge margins in the city of Los Angeles in November and the county of L.A. in March, respectively, will drastically increase the amount of resources dedicated to combating homelessness in our region.

By working on systems change, passing these initiatives, and adopting best practices, we have made enormous progress on this critical issue at the regional level. But without addressing the underlying issues that cause homelessness in the first place, which conservative columnist Steve Lunetta recently discussed (https://signalscv.com/2017/07/26/steve-lunetta-identifying-causes-homelessness/), all of our efforts can only go so far.

A few weeks ago, The Signal reported that Santa Clarita has seen six months of rent increases, up nearly 6 percent from last year (https://signalscv.com/2017/08/01/santa-clarita-sees-sixth-months-rent-increases/). High rents and low vacancy rates correlate more closely with homelessness than any other variable – and here in Southern California, the record rising rents correspond directly to the devastating increase in homelessness (23 percent over last year).

LA County has more than 10 million residents – a larger population than all but eight states, and it continues to grow. More people want to live here than there are homes, and we can’t truly address rising rents locally without some serious help at the federal level.

However, there are fiscally responsible solutions we can implement, today, that wouldn’t add a cent to federal spending and would be effective in alleviating the housing affordability crisis that is not only the major factor in homelessness, but also affecting everyone in our community.

We can modify the mortgage interest deduction to provide a greater tax benefit to middle class and lower-income homeowners and simultaneously create revenue to fund proven programs like the National Housing Trust Fund that would allow us to develop more dedicated affordable housing for seniors, veterans, and families.

We can change the income targeting requirements of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program so that it better contributes to the expansion of affordable housing available to extremely-low-income households.

And, while it would require some investment, we could support bipartisan efforts to address the issue, such as the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017, a bill introduced by senators Maria Cantwell, D-Wa., and Orrin Hatch, R-Ut. The increase in federal spending would be offset not only by the increased production of affordable housing, but massive additional local benefits.

The development of every 1,000 rental apartments supports approximately 1,130 jobs, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Over the past 30 years, the Housing Credit has generated $310 billion in local income and $122 billion in tax revenues, as well as supported approximately 3.25 million jobs.

Rising rents and the shortage of affordable housing are major causes of homelessness, but there are many others, as Steve Lunetta described. To address those root causes, the federal government absolutely has to play a role – the problem is far too deep and complex for us to solve locally only. Common sense, effective, and financially sustainable solutions exist that will not only help prevent and end homelessness but address the challenges that so many people in our community face every single day.

These solutions include comprehensively addressing mental health and substance use disorders, reforming our criminal justice system, providing affordable child care, making college and trade school affordable to everyone, developing pathways to good jobs, and creating more good jobs right here at home.

They also include fundamentally tackling the growing issue of income inequality and a shrinking middle class, and ensuring that the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share in taxes so we have the resources to do what needs to be done.

I plan in future columns to propose solutions to each of these specific policy areas. Stay tuned!

Katie Hill is an Agua Dulce resident and a Democratic candidate for California’s 25th Congressional District.

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