[Hpn] Philadelphia, PA - Practicing housing, not just building it - Philadelphia Daily News - November 17, 2003

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Practicing housing, not just building it

By MATTHEW B. JOYCE - Philadelphia Daily News - November 17, 2003

Philadelphia, PA - EVERYONE benefits from affordable housing.

There are few who would argue that offering a broader range of
accessible housing options to low-income residents of
Philadelphia would be a step in the wrong direction.

The Nov. 6 op-ed "A Model for Creating Affordable Housing for
All" nicely detailed the advantages of bringing new affordable
apartments to Center City. The column strayed, however, when it
portrayed the construction of new housing as the solution to
homelessness in Philadelphia.

Housing is unquestionably the remedy to homelessness, but
matching the city's homeless with permanent housing need not be
put on hold until enough affordable properties are built to
accommodate everyone in Philadelphia.

By accepting the notion that low-income, affordable developments
are the means to solve homelessness in our city, we are
essentially telling displaced Philadelphians, "Just stay in that
shelter or on that park bench for a few more years - help is on
the way."

For the homeless, the prospect of affordable housing on the far
horizon is not enough - instead of relying solely on bricks and
mortar to eventually end homelessness, let's take stock of what's
available now. Over the last few years, the Philadelphia housing
market has wrongly been deemed impenetrable. The rallying cry for
homeless service providers has consistently been, "Build more
affordable housing," never "Tap into Philadelphia's existing

It's not as catchy a phrase, but across the country it has been
the most successful means to move homeless into housing without
roadblocks and waiting lists.

In Los Angeles, where the vacancy rate for rental properties is
far lower than in Philadelphia, providers have had outstanding
success locating affordable apartments and housing formerly
homeless families. Beyond Shelter, L.A.'s nationally renowned
"Housing First" provider, has placed more than 2,200 families in
permanent housing since its inception.

In New York, another city with a scarcity of affordable housing,
the Housing First method has achieved similarly astounding
results. By working closely with more than 200 landlords, the
staff of Pathways to Housing has collected a sizable inventory of
affordable private-market apartments and assists homeless New
Yorkers in acquiring and maintaining their own homes.

Clients from both Pathways and Beyond Shelter have sustained
their housing three years after moving in with a success rate of
85 percent.

WHILE affordable housing is important for everyone in
Philadelphia, homeless and housed alike, it is important that our
efforts to end homelessness do not hinge on new development.

It is too easy to be swept away by celebrations like last month's
senatorial announcement of $88 million in federal funds to
develop new housing ($6.5 million less than last year's total),
and assume that homelessness is gradually being eliminated.

As we applaud innovative new projects like Project HOME's "Kate's
Place," we must also evaluate the scope of the homeless problem
to help direct our efforts, and develop a working knowledge of
Philadelphia's existing housing resources so that no homeless
individual or family must wait for their home to be built.

Although affordable housing developments offer an encouraging
light at the end of the tunnel for Philadelphia's homeless, we
must begin accurately tracking the successes and failures of our
existing programs and compiling a comprehensive inventory of
immediate housing options to ensure that we are always driving
toward daylight.

Matthew B. Joyce is a policy analyst for the
Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness.

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