Homeless person on sidewalk

Urban Planning Optimization: Homelessness

Homelessness impacts more than half a million Americans. Some are temporarily homeless, while others are chronically homeless. That means they have been without a home for a year or more. People of all ages are homeless, even though many work full-time jobs. One major cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. Good urban planning can address this issue and help reduce the number of citizens without a safe place to sleep.

What is Urban Planning?

Urban planning is sometimes called regional, town, rural, or city planning. It involves political and technical aspects because it decides the best and most appropriate use of resources such as land and air. Infrastructure like sewage systems, roads, and public transportation are all elements of urban planning. Today, urban planners focus on sustainable development that considers ecological and environmental concerns.

Factors Preventing Affordable Housing

Zoning laws and a focus on buildings that will bring in more tax revenues are some of the reasons more affordable housing isn't available. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests expanding the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit to encourage builders to construct more housing aimed at people who make about 60% of a given area's median income. Another huge issue is the loss of affordable housing to gentrification. Housing units are either renovated to appeal to higher-income residents, torn down and replaced with more expensive housing, or repurposed.

Town planning model

How Zoning Impacts Homelessness

Zoning regulations tend to work against building affordable housing units. Many areas don't want to build multi-family housing because they fear it will bring down the property values of their single-family homes. Zoning also tends to separate residential and commercial spaces, which separates low-income people from job opportunities. Some communities use zoning to discourage public transportation which causes issues for lower-income residents.

Homelessness Statistics

One troubling statistic is that about half of all homeless people work. Many have full-time jobs. They're homeless because working isn't enough for them to afford stable housing. Since 2020, housing prices have risen dramatically, worsening the crisis of the working homeless. There is currently nowhere in the country where a minimum wage job is enough to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

Impact of Homelessness

In addition to the homeless people themselves, homelessness also impacts the life of a city or region. Governments spend a lot of money on homeless people, although very little of it goes to helping them secure housing. Areas where the homeless gather can frighten away other people. People living in areas without sanitation can lead to public health crises.

The Role of Urban Design in Reducing Homelessness

Urban design can work to lessen the number of homeless people. One way to do that is to prioritize keeping the existing stock of affordable housing units and finding ways to build more. Designing cities that rely less on cars also helps people reduce their transportation costs, which can open up their budgets and help them secure good, permanent housing.