The findings of a study in Jacksonville released Thursday show that affordable housing benefits not only those struggling with chronic homelessness and housing insecurity, but also the communities those people live in.
The Solution That Saves is a state pilot designed to analyze the monetary and social impacts that providing Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) can have on those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity and the publicly funded systems that serve them. It was designed and funded by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, which competitively chose three sites in Florida to develop and operate PSH properties in. In addition to Duval County, Miami-Dade and Pinellas were selected.
Ability Housing led the implementation of the Duval County pilot.
The Duval County Pilot participants ranged in age from 20 to 64-years-old when the survey began. Of the 92 participants who initially enrolled in the study, 48 were African-American and 51 were female. They were all considered low-income and “high-utilizers” of crisis services who struggled with chronic homelessness or housing instability. The term “high-utilizer” refers to people with chronic health conditions who frequently require expensive publicly funded systems of care like emergency rooms, hospitals, shelters, psychiatric facilities, and jails or prisons.
All but two of the participants had at least one intellectual, physical or psychiatric disability. According to Ability Housing, disabilities are frequently the cause of or a contributing factor to homelessness. If a disability isn’t adequately cared for, it can lead to perpetual homelessness.
The project included 92 units of permanent supportive housing, comprised of 49 units scattered throughout Jacksonville and 43 units at Village on Wiley, a multifamily development owned by Ability Housing and financed by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation that opened on the city’s Westside in 2015.
Of the 92 participants, 77 remained in housing through the two-year evaluation. That translates to a housing stability rate of 90 percent.
According to Ability Housing, moving into PSH gave participants opportunities to increase their income. On average, they saw an increase in monthly income of $244.
Before they had access to housing, only 36 of the 92 participants had health insurance. After moving into PSH, 54 were insured. That’s a health insurance participation increase of 56 percent.
According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, those who moved into PSH interacted with the criminal justice system much less frequently. In the two years prior to moving into PSH, participants collectively spent 2,053 days in jail at a cost of $123,447. After housing, the cost fell to $34,274 as participants spent 1,483 fewer days behind bars - a reduction of 72 percent.
Arrests and bookings also fell significantly. During the two years before they had access to housing, participants were collectively arrested 84 times at a cost of $74,256. After PSH, the number of arrests fell to 29 and the cost dropped to $25,636.
The biggest savings were in the healthcare system. According to Ability Housing, hospital costs fell by 57.6 percent from nearly $6.5 million during the two years prior to housing to just over $2.7 million during the first two years in housing. That represents a more than $3.7 million decrease in total costs to hospitals.
To put it simply, “to house individuals and give them wrap around support costs us 30 percent less than to maintain them as homeless on our streets," said Shannon Nazworth, President and CEO of Ability Housing.
“Permanent Supportive Housing is an evidence-based practice, proven to provide cost-effective solutions to some of our community’s most daunting challenges. The Solution That Saves is the first project to provide Florida-specific data on the impact of this approach,” Nazworth said. “The evidence shows us that housing is health care. Housing linked with individualized supports can help end homelessness in our community, reduce utilization of crisis services and, most importantly, contribute to a higher quality of life for our neighbors in need and our community as a whole. But, it’s not just about saving money; it’s about saving lives.”
After two years in housing, participants showed a 30.9 percent decrease in suicidal tendencies and a 19.9 percent decrease in drug abuse or dependence. They also reported a 15.1 percent increase in perceived quality of life, including a 25.8 percent increase in perceived health and a 20.7 percent increase in perceived psychological and spiritual quality of life.
According to Nazworth, affordable housing is a huge economic driver. “There are communities in this state that cannot attract businesses because the business’s employees can’t find a place to live and they don’t want their employees commuting an hour or more. They know that that’s disruptive to their productivity.”
“This study is showing how stable housing and good health care can make real differences in Floridians’ lives, while lowering overall public costs — saving taxpayers’ valuable money — at the same time,” said Trey Price, Executive Director for Florida Housing Finance Corporation. “We applaud Ability Housing for leading this study to ensure policy makers at all levels can support evidence-based practices that produce the best outcomes for all of Florida’s residents.”
Nazworth said they were lucky to get $10 million from the state to fund the project. She said money from the state’s Affordable Housing Trust fund used to be generously dispersed to communities throughout the state to fund rental and affordable housing. “For many, many years it was incredibly successful. It was the model for the country,” she said. “People were so envious of Florida.”
But since the recession, the state legislature has used that money to balance the budget, sometimes taking as much as 100 percent of the trust fund. “That’s ridiculous,” Nasworth said. “This is a growing state. We are very tourism and agriculture based across much of the state. Those are very low paying jobs. We have to have more affordable housing. The legislature has been sweeping it and using it to balance the budget every year since the recession started, and they’re not reversing.”
Nazworth said now that they have the numbers, the next steps are to meet with elected officials, show them the data, stress the importance of tackling the affordable housing crisis and convince them that PSH is a proven and effective way to address the problem.
“We have an affordable housing crisis,” she said. “Wages have not remotely kept up with the cost of housing across our country, including in Jacksonville.”
“We need to have more affordable housing,” Nazworth went on to say. “Our workers, our neighbors, our teachers, everyone needs an affordable place to live and Jacksonville is falling way behind in making sure we provide enough affordable housing.”