Thursday, August 5, 2010

The ROI with Permanent Supportive Housing

The uproar over where to locate permanent supportive housing is, indeed interesting to say the least. The consistent drum beat that it drives down property values, increases violence and destroys neighborhoods in general is pretty interesting.

By and large, with no other development, multi or single family, we don't know where our neighbors come from, what their physical or mental state happens to be. Nor are we concerned about what type of public subsidy (tax abatements or any other kinds of tax incentives) are provided for-profit developers. Yet, knowing and having these things brought into the open drives some people near apoplectic!

Is it simply that we are not all in agreement that we don't want our tax money utilized in ways with which we disagree? The last time I checked, this country usually doesn't determine how our public dollars are spent by show of hands. Military spending, government research, even public television are usually decided by elected bodies making decisions to spend 'our' tax monies in ways in which there is not unanimous or even majority agreement. And, like it or not, there is spending which occurs that is in accordance with a general agreement of what is in the public interest. I've yet to hear a cogent argument of how it is in the public interest to leave people on the street. Small minded generalizations that everyone who is homeless and mentally ill - or in any other way disabled (do those who have neighbors living on disability actually refer to them as 'living off the public'?!) - is so because they are lazy and irresponsible, is not only not true, it is a cruel mischaracterization of those who have met with misfortune that those who castigate them have had the good fortune to be able to avoid. And about whom they would not necessarily give much thought, if it weren't for the fact that 'their' money was in some way 'supporting' them.

So what happens with the public money that subsidizes and provides case management for the formerly homeless?

It pays rent. In the case of Central Dallas Ministries' PSH program, it pays rent to a private landlord. That landlord pays the utilities, the salaries of his staff, provides furnishings and maintenance for the people (in our program and others) who live on his property. The landlord makes his living from this private investment. Which means he provides a living for his family. That includes paying a mortgage, keeping his children in school, his own utilities and property taxes as well as income tax.

A portion of the HUD grant pays for CDM staff to provide the case management. The staff in turn, pay rent or mortgages where they live. They provide food and clothing for their families. They have transportation, so cars are bought. If a loan is taken out, they're taken out with a financing company so car notes are paid. And they pay taxes. We provide benefits for them and they contribute to health insurance and retirement.

What of the program participants? They contribute at least 30% of their income to rent. For most of them, that means disability. If they don't have SSI, or their SSI needs to be appealed, we help with that. What happens with the other 70%? Case managers help them develop a life plan, so that they can have some degree of self sufficiency. So they buy groceries. Some need SNAP cards (food stamps) to help supplement their ability to buy food, so we help them apply for that. No one hoards food stamps. It's real money to be spent at real grocery stores. They buy clothes. Allocations for public transportation is paid for at DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit), which means that real money goes there. They are helped to maintain regular medical treatment. Which means they no longer have the emergency rooms of the county hospital as the first resort. That saves money. Regular treatment also saves in health care costs. Because they have their own place to live, it means they can take whatever medication they need regularly. That saves money. They aren't on the street, exposed to the elements, which also makes them healthier. Some can work - even though they are on disability - which increases the amount they contribute to their rent and increases their ability to care for themselves. They go to church. They attend AA or NA meetings (a few have even become sponsors). In short, more and more, they become assets to the community. Some go back to school. They become better consumers (where and what you spend your money on is limited when you live on the streets or in a shelter). They are no longer victims of crime, nor do they get accused of being perpetrators of crime.

Is it perfect? No. But neither is the neighborhood in which I live - or yours.

Is this a good investment of tax dollars? I believe so. There are some who will never be convinced. Just as I will never be convinced that huge tax breaks to the wealthy is a guarantee that it will trickle down and produce real prosperity for those below them.

The difference is, I can prove that PSH is an investment in human capital and recirculated throughout the economy. Cruel, uninformed, fear based, hysterical comments and ideological mantra don't prove that leaving people on the streets helps anyone.

No comments: