A home is more than shelter in America. Owning a home is a social statement, a cultural priority, and the most significant financial investment for many Americans. In the wake of the Great Recession record numbers of Americans lost their homes. More than five years following the financial collapse over 630,000 Americans are homeless, one in every five hundred individuals. Roughly forty percent of those homeless are children, in New York City 21,000 of the 50,000 homeless are underage. Without a home these children do not have an optimistic future; most will be claimed by gang life, prostitution, and alcoholism.
The tragic paradox of homeless crisis is that there is not a housing crisis as well; the vacated homes remain unoccupied.
In the wake of the Great Recession, banks foreclosed whole neighborhoods of homes. Preceding the recession investment groups pushed mortgage-originator banks to issue loans to prospective homeowners who they knew would be unable to pay them back, hoodwinking them with teaser rates and outright fraud. These homeowners, overwhelming black and Hispanic, were manipulated into signing mortgages they lacked the incomes to pay. When the housing market deflated these residents were left jobless, destitute, and homeless. As the national economy dipped, this collapse of wealth played out again and again across the country. Vacated homes were put on the market by the dozen, driving down property values and exacerbating the housing crisis and devaluing homes of remaining residents. The majority of these homes are still on the market but left in disrepair by the banks, who were unprepared to take on so many residencies. Left empty, these homes have been looted for anything valuable and left as crack houses, losing much of their remaining value.
I do not have a solution to this crisis. It is too expensive for cities buy back these empty homes in bulk, but as long as the unwanted homes stand local property values will remain low while the crime rate remains high and the cities remain property tax starved. It is doubtful the modern homeless will ever be able save enough to buy new property. The mishandling of the housing bubble will ripple into the future, hampering the most impoverished Americans and further distancing them from a financial stable life. A home is more than shelter in America, for many it is a dream forever out of reach.