Thursday, October 23, 2014
As someone who clears title to vacant inner-city properties--first in Baltimore, now in South Bend--I have been asked more than once "Can Homeless People Move into Baltimore's Abandoned Houses?" An Atlantic article with that exact title tells the story of an attempt by a coalition of labor, community development and homelessness activists to transform vacant houses in the McElderry Park neighborhood of Baltimore into permanently affordable homes for the homeless. Regular readers of this blog may already be familiar with the Community Land Trust model and its use of resale restrictions to make sure that subsidized homes are affordable not just to the first homeowners but to subsequent homebuyers as well.
Housing Our Neighbors, the Baltimore group featured in the Atlantic piece, is ambitiously bringing together a permanent affordability model usually connected to homeownership with an upstart approach to ending homelessness called Housing First. The National Alliance to End Homelessness makes a straightforward argument: Life on the streets kills homeless people. The homeless need housing now. Rather than funnel the vast number of people on the streets through the impossibly tiny number of transitional units with supportive social services attached to them, Housing First advocates making housing immediately available to homeless persons, adding services as needed, and not making engagement with those services a condition of residents' right to stay.
The article offers a great deal to think about. Hat tip to Jaime Lee, my successor as Director of the University of Baltimore School of Law Community Development Clinic!