1 Perceptions of Homelessness in and City an ICPH Poll Comparison February 2011
2 Page 2 Perceptions of Homelessness in and City Perceptions of Homelessness in and City ICPH Poll Comparison In order to gauge public opinion on homelessness, the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH), in collaboration with the Academy of Political Science and Baruch College School of Public Affairs, conducted a citywide telephone survey of more than 1,000 residents in City in January 2010 and of more than 2,000 residents in in August ICPH s findings show that ans and ers are more similar than different in their perceptions of homelessness and support for policies to help homeless families. ans and ers, for instance, perceived increases in homelessness in their cities at similar rates (55% compared to 62%), had similar levels of exposure to homeless people (22% compared to 19%), and expressed a comparable willingness to pay higher taxes to help reduce homelessness (54% compared to 5). However, the two polls had a few notable differences. ers feel more vulnerable When looking at the total sample, a slightly higher percentage of ers are worried about being at risk of homelessness when compared to ans (23% compared to 17%) (Figure 1). This difference increases greatly, however, when examining only those respondents who indicated they are having trouble paying basic living expenses. Among this group, 66% of ers are worried about being at risk of homelessness compared with 46% of ans. Fifty-eight percent of low-income families with children in perceive risk of homelessness, compared to 44% in. These results show that, particularly when examining only those who are economically insecure, ers are more anxious about becoming homeless than ans. Figure 1: Are you worried that you or your family might be at risk of becoming homeless? (by respondent type) 8 66% 58% 4 26% 3 23% 17% 16% 11% All respondents 46% Trouble paying expenses 44% Low-income with children 43% 42% Unemployed Renters Homeowners
3 ICPH Poll Comparison Page 3 There are many likely reasons for these findings, including the fact that the poll was conducted six months before the poll. However, another potential factor may be the disproportionately higher cost of living especially housing in when compared with. In fact, when asked about the top cause of homelessness, 19% of ers selected housing/rent costs versus just 7% of ans. The median rent in in 2009 was $886; the median rent in was $1,086, 22.6% higher than in. 2 In contrast, the 2009 median household income in was just 9.3% higher than in ($50,003 compared to $45,734). Surprisingly, a slightly larger percentage of ans are rent burdened (54%) when compared to ers (51%). This may be explained by the higher availability of rent subsidies and regulation in. In 1999, for example, 19.8% of occupied units in were public or government subsidized; in 71.6% were public, government subsidized or rent regulated. 3 does not have rent control. Nevertheless, subsidized housing in is not available to everyone, and subsidies have become more scarce in recent years; thus, even though a smaller proportion of ers are rent burdened, financially-stressed families in who do not have subsidized housing are particularly at risk. The higher levels of homeownership in compared to may provide a supporting explanation for the differences in perceived risk. In 2009, was 47% owner occupied while was 34% owner occupied. 4 Although the foreclosure crisis has increased instability among homeowners, those who own their home typically have more security than renters; renters are disproportionately represented among involuntary movers. 5 In fact, the survey results show that renters are more worried about their risk of homelessness; 25% of renters perceive risk of homelessness versus just 11% of homeowners. Furthermore, housing is not the only expense that is higher in. ers, in general, pay more for basic needs, including utilities, groceries, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods. Depending on the borough, an individual living in would need to earn approximately 37.9% to 80.9% more in income than an individual living in in order to maintain the same standard of living. 6 Given that costs are much higher in than in, it follows that a higher proportion of families in are fearful of losing financial stability and falling into homelessness.
4 Page 4 Perceptions of Homelessness in and City Differing perceptions on the causes of homelessness A greater percentage of ans (55%) believe unemployment is the top cause of homelessness when compared to ers (47%) (Figure 2). 7 This finding could be explained by the greater pervasiveness of unemployment in and by the additional importance of alternative causes in. Unemployment and the recession As a result of the recession, ers have experienced elevated unemployment rates in recent years. When ICPH s poll was conducted in January 2010, unemployment in the metro region was at 9.7%, compared to 7.6% in January 2009 and 4.8% in It is not surprising then that 47% of ers believe unemployment is the primary cause of homelessness today. However, for much of the recession, the unemployment rate in remained below the national average, leading experts to declare the recession less severe in than in other parts of the country. In a recent Department of Labor report, State ranked 39th among all states for percent of jobs lost between December 2007 and September In fact, much of the Northeast fared better than the West, Midwest, and Southeast regions. 10 Figure 2: What do you think is the top cause of family homelessness? 55% 45% 47% 3 15% 7% 5% 26% 18% 9% Unemployment Poverty Housing/rent Domestic violence, on the other hand, like many Midwestern cities, saw unemployment rates hover above the national average during the recession. In August 2010, when the ICPH poll was conducted, the unemployment rate in the metro area was 9.8%, compared with 9.5% nationwide. The rate was 10.1% in August 2009 and 5% in August 2007., as a whole, has been faced with elevated unemployment to a greater degree than, which may be a reason that ans identify joblessness as the top cause of homelessness at higher rates than ers. Alternatives in As noted above, a far higher proportion of ers (18%) believe housing/rent costs is the top cause of homelessness when compared with ans (7%). A slightly higher proportion of New Yorkers (26%) than ans () selected poverty as the main cause of homelessness (Figure 2). The high cost of living in could be a major reason why ers selected both housing/rent costs and poverty at higher rates than ans.
5 ICPH Poll Comparison Page 5 ers feel they have a safety net to fall back on Far fewer ans believe the city government would help them out of their situation if they became homeless. A majority of ans (51%) said the city would not help them, compared to just one-third of ers (Figure 3). In fact, almost half of ers (47%) believe the city government would help them if they became homeless. is well known for having a strong social safety net. 11 State ranks first in welfare spending per capita, spending $2,257 per person in Illinois, on the other hand, ranks 28th, spending $1,264 per capita in Furthermore, City is the only municipality in the country in which homeless individuals and families have a legal right to shelter; the state of Massachusetts also has a legal guarantee of emergency shelter. guarantees shelter to homeless families in practice; however, without a well-publicized legal right to shelter, it is possible that at-risk families in are less aware of the safety net available to them and, therefore, feel less secure about the city s ability to help them if they became homeless. Figure 3: Do you believe the city government would help you out of your situation if you became homeless? 45% 47% 51% 3 34% 33% 15% 15% Would Would not Not sure ans more supportive of neighborhood shelters ans show more support than ers for a family homeless shelter located in their neighborhood. While 7 of ans said they would support a shelter, just 55% of New Yorkers said they would (Figure 4). The difference is even starker among those with a household income of $75,000 or more, with of ans showing support for a shelter versus 38% of ers. Explanations for the differences in support are likely numerous. One explanation, however, could simply be that City has by far the highest number of sheltered homeless people in the country, both because of its large homeless population and its right to shelter guarantee. A 2004 Brookings Institution report found that had 81 critical mass neighborhoods, or those Census tracts with a sheltered homeless population of 100 or more people (critical mass tracts make up 3.6% of s Census tracts). 13, in contrast, had eight critical mass
6 Page 6 Perceptions of Homelessness in and City neighborhoods, or 0.9% of the city s Census tracts. The number of high homeless population neighborhoods in, in fact, declined between 1990 and It is possible that the concentrated nature of the sheltered population in stirs more opposition than would a more dispersed environment. 14 In 1989, in response to concerns about oversaturation of city facilities in certain neighborhoods, City adopted a fair share provision, stipulating that city facilities be distributed more equitably and transparently. Figure 4: Would you support a family homeless shelter located in your neighborhood? % 4 17% 23% Support Neutral 1 15% 3% 3% Oppose Not sure Cities concur on guaranteed shelter, differ on rent subsidies and prevention ans show less support for a government program that moves families into apartments and pays their rents (62% in compared to 73% in ) (Figure 5). However, respondents in show more support for a prevention program for families at risk of becoming homeless (87% in compared to 78% in ). Figure 5: Would you support a city government program that moves families into apartments and pays their rent? 8 73% 62% 4 26% 16% 12% 11% Support Oppose Not sure City has guaranteed a right to shelter since 1979; has never had a legal guarantee. Even so, residents in both cities support guaranteed shelter at nearly the same rates (77% in compared to 79% in ).
7 ICPH Poll Comparison Page 7 Conclusion These polls suggest that while ers feel more vulnerable to falling into homelessness, ans feel less secure about their city s ability to help them if they reach that point. With so many housed ers feeling vulnerable, the city must continue its focus on homeless prevention policies, reaching out to those who are most at risk. In ICPH s poll, lowincome families with children and unemployed respondents perceived risk of homelessness at higher rates; also, Hispanics were more anxious about homelessness than other ethnic groups, and those living in the Bronx perceived risk of homelessness at higher rates than residents of other boroughs. 15 ans, meanwhile, would benefit from more assurance that help is available should they become homeless. ans showed strong support for policies and programs to assist families who become homeless, with nearly 8 supporting guaranteed shelter for families in need and almost 9 supporting homeless prevention efforts for those at risk of losing their homes. A right to shelter guarantee may ease the minds of vulnerable ans. Furthermore, while the city already offers prevention services, it is possible that residents are not aware of the services or are unclear on how to access them; residents may feel more secure with increased awareness of the help available to them. Common threads through both cities are the sense of vulnerability to homelessness, especially given the tough economic times, and a strong show of compassion for those who become homeless. Both ers and ans want their cities to maintain or bolster the safety net for those at risk of losing, or already without, a home.
8 Page 8 Perceptions of Homelessness in and City Endnotes 1 Stemming the Tide: ers Expect Government Solutions for Rising Family Homelessness, the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (May 2010). 2 American Community Survey, Schill, Michael and Glynis Daniels, State of City s Housing and Neighborhoods: An Overview of Recent Trends, Economic Policy Review (June 2003). Rent regulated includes rent controlled and rent stabilized units. 4 American Community Survey, Hartman, Chester and David Robinson, Evictions: The Hidden Housing Problems, Housing Policy Debate, Vol. 14, Issue 4 (2003). 6 ACCRA Cost of Living Index Comparison data, accessed November 15, 2010, https://www.coli.org/order.asp? action=display&from=1&user1=wpts2zxq35; Note: ACCRA Cost of Living Index calculations are available for Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, but not Staten Island, the Bronx, or City as a whole; this report presents a range using the indexes for Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. 7 Figure does not add up to 10 because the Not sure and All of the above categories are not displayed. 8 Local Area Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 9 High unemployment persists, but has not fared as badly as most states in the downturn, Fiscal Policy Institute, Oct. 22, Morin, Rich, One Recession, Two Americas, Pew Research Center, September 2010; Glaeser, Ed, West Coast Job Market Woes, Times, May 2009; Brookings Institution, MetroMonitor: Tracking the Recession and Recovery in America s 100 Largest Metropolitan Areas (2010). 11 Liebschutz, Sarah Social Services. In Governing State, edited by Robert Pecorella and Jeffrey Stonecash, (Albany: State University of, 2006), U.S. Census Bureau: Federal, State and Local Governments, Government Finance Statistics, govs/ (2008). 13 Lee, Barrett and Chad Farrell, Metropolitan Neighborhoods with Sheltered Homeless Populations: Evidence from the 1990 and 2000 Census. Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution (October 2004). 14 In, 85% of the sheltered homeless population resides within the city s 81 critical mass Census tracts; on average nationwide, 73% of the population resides within critical mass neighborhoods. 15 Stemming the Tide: ers Expect Government Solutions for Rising Family Homelessness, the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (May 2010). The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH) is an independent nonprofit research organization based in City. ICPH studies the impact of poverty on family and child well-being and generates research that will enhance public policies and programs affecting poor or homeless children and their families. Specifically, ICPH examines the condition of extreme poverty in the United States and its effect on educational attainment, housing, employment, child welfare, domestic violence, and family wellness. Please visit our Web site for more information: