An Approach That Deserves Emulating

A recent report in the Indianapolis Star focused on the lack of affordable housing in Indianapolis and the state.

The research had been done by SAVI, a program of The Polis Center at IUPUI that partners with United Way of Central Indiana. SAVI is an online community information system that provides data to government agencies and organizations, and maintains a website making that data freely accessible. (The paper no longer has the resources to independently research such matters.)

In Indianapolis, there are only six affordable rentals for every 10 extremely low-income households, and .there are virtually no vacancies in that category units, making it hard–if not impossible– for extremely low-income households to find an available unit.

Since 2017, the city has supported the construction of 3,842 units of affordable rental housing and 887 permanent supportive housing units by private and nonprofit developers, according to an IndyStar analysis of city data. Permanent supportive housing units are a type of housing for formerly homeless people that includes social services and often cover rent with housing vouchers.

Of the affordable rental units, no more than about 744 are reserved for and required to be affordable to very low-income individuals, who are those making $32,000 for a one-person household or $41,000 for a three-person household.

The city has also supported the creation of 333 affordable homes for lower-income households to own.

That still leaves a shortage of 33,600 homes.

Indiana’s legislators evidently took time out from their obsessions with women’s reproduction and CRT to pass  a bill last session creating a new statewide affordable housing tax credit. The city believes that will boost local government’s ability to build low-income housing using the federal low-income housing tax credit program.

The lack of low-income housing and the growth of homelessness are hardly new problems, here or elsewhere. Municipal governments and CDCs (Community Development Corporations) all struggle with the issue, recognizing that the lack of housing feeds into a number of other social ills, especially crime, so I was fascinated to read about an approach being taken by Kansas City that seems promising.

Kansas City began with an intervention aimed at the most dire manifestation: homelessness.

In order to help alleviate homelessness—and to improve the cleanliness of the city—Kansas City’s Public Works department is collaborating with local nonprofits to create new jobs for some people who are unhoused. The employees of the Clean Up KC initiative were paid to pick up litter from underserved inner-city areas for three months. It’s been crucial—not just for keeping the city cleaner, but for improving chances that they find housing, for which employment is a major criteria. At the end of the program, many have moved into housing, and a new cohort of workers will start a new pilot soon.

The approach being tried by Kansas City recognizes the inter-relationship of social problems, and of the challenges faced by folks who have fallen on hard times–or never known any times that weren’t hard.

Crucially, finding housing is often easier with employment, as it’s more appealing for private landlords and sometimes on a list of criteria for public housing. As part of the program, the nonprofits also helped the workers navigate the housing system. “A goal of this is helping them to create a sustainable, successful life,” Parks-Shaw says. “And you can’t do that without housing.”

Research has shown that investments in programs to help people who are unhoused reduces spending for cities—and taxpayers—on healthcare and emergency department visits.

The obvious question about this particular approach is: what happens to these people when the program–and employment–end?

For the program graduates, there may the opportunity for full-time employment. Kansas City’s Full Employment Council will provide the additional training and certification needed to work for the city on a permanent basis. “I see this as a win-win for our unhoused individuals, and a win-win for the city at a time when we’re struggling to fill positions and meet the needs of our community,” Parks-Shaw says.

That paragraph reminded me of long-ago proposals addressing joblessness by making government the “employer of last resort.” 

In Kansas City, providing employment through government addressed much more than homelessness; not only did formerly homeless people find housing, but workers removed litter and piles of trash from city streets, enhancing the municipal environment.

If America ever emerges from the cold civil war and focuses on solving public problems, Kansas City may provide an approach to emulate. 


  1. The problem with social service endeavors it that they provide little opportunity for the Republican grifters to enrich themselves or their donor base. Why (they will ask) should we Republicans work to help THOSE people? Whats in it for them? I expect little involvement of the R Grifter class in this arena. But one can always hope. (In fairness, the grifters have made owning and operating filthy sub-standard rental units vastly easier and more profitable in Indiana. They can always find a way to profit if given a chance)

  2. This is a post about a problem and a suggestion for a solution. It is not always possible to do that, but I appreciate it when it happens.

  3. One category I find missing is the veteran homeless. It had been declining as the Vietnam Vets either found housing or died due to suicide or heath related issues. Then came the Afghanistan and Iraq vets and the numbers rose again. At one point Vietnam Vets accounted for 50% of the homeless and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the Afghanistan & Iraq vets approached the same level.

    The VA has programs in place to address Veteran homelessness, but they will only work if the vets are willing to sign up. Many vets, myself included, have very little trust in the Federal government as we were all lied to in regard to the wars we fought and the welcome or lack thereof when we returned. We also tend to have PTSD (again me included) which increases our distrust. I have spent untold amount of time in one on one and group therapy. Bottom line, when addressing veteran homelessness there are additional factors which need to be addressed.

  4. Homelessness can make it difficult to find/keep a job. Often the employer needs, or thinks they need, a physical address, and are reluctant to hire if the address is known to be a homeless shelter. No physical address no job. No job can mean no physical address. it goes round and round. The same people who complain about “giving” illegal immigrants everything ( we don’t ) and homeless Americans nothing will 5 minutes later whine about the homeless and how we need to move them along out of their city etc etc. The issue regarding homeless veterans is complicated. I get that trust in the government is often low in this community, and the VA too often rejects legitimate disability claims (my tinnitus for instance, but the VA did provide hearing aids at no cost to me) but many of the same problems exist for vets as for non-vets. Substance abuse, mental health deterioration, and often people are just a divorce & lousy lawyer away from losing everything.

  5. A few words in the Constitution provide justification for programs such as the one in Kansas. They are “to promote the general welfare.” And of course, there is always the “Sermon on the Mount,” but too many legislators don’t seem to remember either of them.

  6. Stan, the VA has many programs to help, but as in all large organizations, you have to find the right person to ask about the things you need. My suggestion to all veterans is to start in the Patient Advocate’s office. They can help you get to the people who operate those programs. VA’s own research shows that “housing first” works best.

    As to the problem of affordable housing, we have that in spades here in FLA. In fact, many jobs (including teachers) don’t pay enough for even minimal housing, if there were any to be had. Years ago New York started a program that required every upscale development to include a percentage of low cost housing in order to take advantage of tax breaks available to the developers. You have to incentivize most developers to build what’s needed most.

  7. I wonder if the homeless population in Kansas City is different than the homeless population in Indianapolis.

    I pose that question because many of our social service agencies in Indiana are run by Republican bureaucrats who don’t believe in “homelessness.” They send underpaid social workers into the field to assist homeless folks, and guess what they discover?

    An extremely high level of substance abuse and mental illness. When interviewed, the homeless would rather stay homeless because it offers them freedom. Being asked to join a job cohort that may or may not lead anywhere will only work for a minuscule % of the homeless population. Most won’t even accept housing because of their rules.

    My other question is, do the homeless who clean Kansas City’s streets get paid according to the public union’s wages, or have the Republican bureaucrats found an extremely cheap way of cleaning up the city’s inner core?

    Instilling a conservative Calvinist work ethic in the homeless may take longer than 90 days… many other issues need addressing first among this population. And, as the previous two posters mentioned, trust is a big one!

  8. If you educate your youth, you give them an opportunity to make something of themselves. If you force women to birth babies because of abortion restrictions, then in about 15 years, these babies are probably going to be the next homeless generation. We are the problem! Our society wants everyone to pull up their own bootstraps, but where are the boots? We have failed our society with less education, less opportunities, less motivation and more despair. We let the media create culture wars from right wing talking points. No thanks to Limbaugh, Roger Ayres and Murdoch. We must turn the talking points into ideas and actions. How about having permanent jobs cleaning streets and parks? What a concept!

    How about protecting mentally ill people with institutions that house, educate and protect them? Nixon never gets mentioned lately, it’s always Reagan’s fault, but Nixon claimed he wasn’t a crook! Just like trump. That’s a generation of people that have been told for 50 years that the government are crooks. Aren’t they? 45 is still fat and free in FL.

    We are landlords and we make sure that our tenants are safe and comfortable. Gee, what a concept.

  9. Each person and family lives on a balance between income, savings, and expenditures. In order to solve problems of imbalance some situation-by-situation balance needs to be established by comparison of every particular situation with community standards. If that were done, my assumption would be that the main problem that would be revealed would be work skills inadequate for the times. That’s a very difficult problem for anyone, expert or individual, to solve. Certainly, those who are found in that situation have shown it to be beyond their capabilities, whatever they are. Even in the best of circumstances such situations also take years to solve.

    One solution is guaranteed minimum income but that has the downside of those providing housing merely upping their game in the face of greater opportunity. Another solution is an army of social workers providing serious counseling over the long term.

    Another approach is to assume that everything that we are capable of doing has been tried and the problem is intractable and we all have to live in the reality of how well our economy does to support our range of work skill sets.

    No matter our intentions that is the situation we are in now. That’s what we are capable of. What makes the most sense to me is to hold on to the gains that have been made and work primarily on education focused on what the world will be like as those being educated graduate to the next step as the only real additional lever we have left. There is nothing at all easy about that but a better focus for our efforts may well be the only winning strategy available.

  10. We have a homeless man camped out about 200 ft. from our front door. We live off of a greenspace/creek in the middle of the city. I noticed he was there when he dropped his bike at the top of ledge and went down the hill out of sight. Our dog fenced up in our side yard kept barking. I walked over to inspect from the street and saw strewn trash and the man sitting on the ground and putting his legs into a big cardboard box. I guess he saw me because he started yelling “I’m leaving” multiple times. I just answered my dog was barking. Here’s a human being down on his luck and I was fearful of him. What to do?

  11. This article speaks volumes of what we need to do as new businesses move in the price of inner city property goes up. Affordable housing is eliminated as buildings are purchased, and with little to no upgrades the rent goes up 25-50%.

  12. I’m leaning toward “tiny house” communities with central plumbing amenities: toilets, showers, laundry, and a black water dump for those who need a portable toilet.
    Composting toilets also mean no sewers needed, only grey water. I built such a place in Florida for my fishing boat friends from Washington/Alaska for winter vacation.
    Serviced ten 150 sq ft sheds with community kitchen, laundry etc.
    Of course these were tough working folks. Such a plan for the homeless would require onsite social services and close police cooperation.
    It’s my experience from counseling Viet Nam war veterans that killing people requires brainwashing in boot camp to grind down the natural reluctance normals have against killing in person. Then you have laid a good foundation for PTSD and psychopathy, since once you’ve killed, all the other moralities wash off your back.
    That’s my experience. The “motel” was Englewood FL, the counseling Spokane WA.
    Veteran homelessness is one more price we pay for war, and we ignore it until the pimple burst out as tents on the street.

  13. Nowadays, “To promote the general welfare,” would be called a form of Communism, by the R grifters, even if they
    were familiar with the concept.
    “Sermon on the mount,” would be twisted into “How do I get into that penthouse”?
    The KC idea seems quite promising, and, at the least, it is a start.

    Unrelated: Reading that Bolsonaro’s son is hanging out with Steve Bannon, who has, reportedly come out in support
    of Brazil’s Former Guy,how does it happen, if we are supposed to all be equal before the law, that this twice convicted,
    slimy so and so, is not behind bars? No one has pardoned his most recent conviction.

Comments are closed.