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High cost of housing drives up homeless rates, UCLA study indicates

Andrew Khouri, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Sky-high housing costs are a significant factor behind California's homeless crisis, according to a new analysis from UCLA.

In a study contained in the latest UCLA Anderson Forecast, released Wednesday, UCLA found that higher median rent and home prices are strongly correlated with more people living on the streets or in shelters. The research backs other studies that have found a similar relationship.

Last year, Zillow released a study that showed a 5 percent rent hike in L.A. County -- where more than 50,000 are estimated to be homeless -- would cause 2,000 additional people to lose their homes.

In April, according to Zillow, the median rent for a vacant apartment in the county was $2,462, up 1.9 percent from the previous year. In 2017, rents climbed an average of 4.3 percent and in 2016, 6.5 percent. The median home price in April was $608,800, up 9 percent from a year earlier.

"If we can improve the affordability and the availability of the general housing market ... I think it will help in reducing the homeless problem," said William Yu, the UCLA economist who conducted the research.

In the study, Yu compared homeless rates and housing costs in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. The percentage of homeless individuals, compared with total population, was highest in the nation's capital, followed by Hawaii, New York and California.

The percentage of unsheltered homeless people was highest in Hawaii, California, Oregon and Nevada.

Of those states, Nevada is relatively affordable. In general, though, Yu found that the higher the housing costs, the higher the homeless rate. The report also found that states with higher incomes, denser neighborhoods and lots of home building tend to have lower rates of homelessness.

"The possible explanation is that a state with more housing supply will have more housing units available for those who might be at risk of being homeless," Yu wrote.

Yu noted that other factors contribute to homelessness. He cited 2017 data showing 26 percent of California homeless individuals are severely mentally ill, 18 percent chronically abuse drugs, 9 percent are veterans and 24 percent are victims of domestic abuse.

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