It's in the title. In Homelessness is a Housing Problem, housing scholar Gregg Colburn and data journalist Clayton Aldern seek to explain the substantial variation in rates of homelessness apparent in cities across the United States.

Using accessible statistics, the researchers test a range of conventional beliefs about what drives the prevalence of homelessness in a given city—including mental illness, drug use, poverty, weather, generosity of public assistance, and low-income mobility—and find that none explain why, for example, rates are so much higher in Seattle than in Chicago. Instead, housing market conditions, such as the cost and availability of rental housing, offer a more convincing explanation.

Rates of homelessness vary widely across the country

Why? Homelessness is a Housing Problem seeks to explain this variance and offer policy solutions for different regional contexts.

Individual vulnerabilities like poverty don't explain regional variation

Contrary to expectations, rates of homelessness tend to be lower where poverty rates are higher.

Housing-related factors predict rates of homelessness

Over the course of the book, the researchers illustrate how absolute rent levels and rental vacancy rates are associated with regional rates of homelessness. Many other common explanations—drug use, mental illness, poverty, or local political context—fail to account for regional variation.

Developing a typology of cities

The researchers group cities into categories to help readers understand different rates of homelessness. Cities can be grouped by population growth and the way in which their housing supplies respond to increases in demand.

The authors

GREGG COLBURN is an assistant professor of real estate at the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments. He has published research on housing and homelessness in journals like Urban Studies, Housing Studies, Urban Affairs Review, and Housing Policy Debate. Gregg holds a PhD and an MSW from the University of Minnesota and an MBA from Northwestern University. Prior to academia, he worked as an investment banker and private equity professional. Gregg is also a member of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Family Homelessness Evaluation Committee and co-chair of the University of Washington’s Homelessness Research Initiative.

Gregg can be reached via email or on Twitter @ColburnGregg.

CLAYTON PAGE ALDERN is a neuroscientist turned journalist and data scientist based in Seattle. His essays and data journalism have been published by The Atlantic, The Economist, Scientific American, Grist, Logic, Sierra, Crosscut, and many other outlets. A Rhodes scholar and a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow, he holds a master’s in neuroscience and a master’s in public policy from the University of Oxford. He is also a research affiliate at the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology at the University of Washington. Most recently in housing policy, he led the data analysis and program evaluation team for homelessness programs at Pierce County, Washington.

Clayton can be reached via email or on Twitter @compatibilism.

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