Soaring home prices, rent further complicate Springfield's affordable housing shortage
I'm Josh Conaway. You might not think that the housing market could have much of an impact people who live on the streets. But in Springfield, the housing market is directly related to the city's homelessness crisis in several ways. One factor is Springfield's severe shortage of affordable housing. This shortage of low-income units in the city means homeless shelters don't have anywhere for residents to transfer to--so the shelters often stay full.
Jeff Sneider has been homeless for two months. He’s talking to us in central Springfield at the Veterans Coming Home Center, which is bustling with activity around dinnertime. It’s a rainy March evening. Sneider says he’s glad he can come to the drop-in center during the day, but when it closes at night, he only has one place to go.
“Every night," Sneider says, "every night it’s above 32 degrees, I know I’m sleeping outside.”
Sneider says he can’t get a bed in the city’s shelters most nights because of overcrowding. He’s holding back tears as he talks.
“I’ve been sleeping outdoors. I’ve never done that. But I am now, and it’s wearing on me. I’m a 51-year old man. And it’s wearing on me.”
Data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development showed homelessness decreased 8% in 2021, but before then, homelessness had increased every year since 2016.
In a November meeting of the Springfield City Council, Michelle Garand from the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, says the organization is trying to reach “functional zero” on homelessness in the region, which means a fast response and permanent solution for families and individuals who become homeless.
“Our goal is to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and doesn’t happen again, Garand says. "But we can’t reach functional zero without affordable housing.”
Garand said one main obstacle to addressing homelessness here is the lack of affordable housing.
And the current housing market nationwide--which has seen the price for new homes and rent skyrocket during the pandemic--is making matters even worse.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, median house prices are up more than $80,000 across the country since 2019. A report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found lower-income renters were disproportionately affected. The report also found the end of federal pandemic relief put many low-income renters at risk of eviction.
Lonnie Funk, President of the Springfield Apartment and Housing Association, says the pandemic strained an already competitive housing market by increasing inflation and the cost of building new properties. As families and individuals moved to Springfield for job opportunities, the number of vacancies shrank, and the window of time to find a place to rent got smaller.
“If you’re not in the right place at the right time, you’re not going to be able to get an apartment," Funk told KSMU. "We’ve got properties that have a waiting list that go out into August. If you need a place tomorrow, it’s going to be a real struggle.”
Essentially, the housing market has become more competitive for both renters and buyers.
This trend tends to push very low-income individuals out of the housing market. Data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found the average Missourian would have to work 52 hours a week at the state’s minimum wage to be able to afford a one-bedroom rental home at the fair market rent rate.
And since there's a severe shortage of low-income housing stock, Springfield’s homeless population is straining emergency shelters that have to turn away people to manage overcrowding.
Garand said many people have enough money for a deposit or even several months of rent ready--but that there just aren’t enough houses or apartments available at affordable prices.
“We’re able to pay for the deposits, even double deposits up to 18 months... but we just don’t have the housing stock to make that possible,” Garand said.
Don Curtis has been homeless in Springfield longer than Sneider. He said he sees a lot more people without shelter in Springfield these days than before the pandemic.
“I know of quite a few individuals I met on the streets here that just lost their jobs, because of evictions, because of job loss, and couldn’t get back in," Curtis says, "and that was in this very city. They [landlords] raised their rents on them. And I taught them how to camp.”
Garand says Springfield needs to add more than 14,000 affordable housing units to meet the needs of households that the Department of Housing and Urban Development classified as "extremely low" and "very low income."
Garand presented several steps the city could take to help, including conducting a housing survey, expanding its crisis response system, and building new emergency housing. But she said one of the most important steps is to increase safe, decent, and affordable housing.
Adam Bodendieck, the director of Homeless Services at the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, says the city can maximize the amount of houses available by building new properties and also by using existing properties that aren’t being lived in.
“We need to, locally, look at new developments," Bodendieck says. "Locally, we need to look at, maybe our abandoned properties. We need to look at nuisance properties. We need to look at our aging housing stocks that’s not currently being used and we need to figure out what we’re doing to do with that, and how we can convert that to sustainable, low income housing.”
For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, I’m Josh Conaway.