Advocates Say Biden Missed an Opportunity to Address Homelessness in SOTU

Biden State of the Union Address Housing Homelessness Crisis

US President Joe Biden delivers his third State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 07 March 2024. Credit Image: © Shawn Thew/EFE via ZUMA Press

President Biden’s recent State of the Union address has drawn criticism from advocates who argue he missed a crucial opportunity to address the escalating homelessness crisis in America. Despite promising initiatives and spending billions, the latest data reveals a 12% YoY increase in homelessness, prompting advocates to urge for more specific policy approaches, increased housing vouchers, expanded public housing, and the removal of restrictive laws hindering access to opioid treatment for those experiencing homelessness.

President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address was full of many big promises about making housing more affordable for the average American. But housing advocates say the speech missed an opportunity to address one of the most pressing issues in America today: homelessness.

According to the latest federal data, roughly 653,000 Americans experienced homelessness in 2023, a climb of more than 12% year over year. This is happening at a time when stubbornly elevated housing and food costs have made it more expensive for low-income earning families to keep their housing.

“Homelessness is not a choice. Nobody dreams of being homeless when they grow up,” Jesse Rabinowitz, a spokesperson for the National Homeless Law Center, told Invisible People. “People are forced into homelessness because the rent is too high, and homelessness was created by decades of underinvestment from the federal government.”

During his campaign for president, Biden made big promises to reduce the cost of housing, defend renters against greedy landlords, and reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness. To that end, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has spent billions to support the development of affordable housing and provide additional financing for homeless service providers.

Some advocates say the president hasn’t gone far enough to accomplish these aims.

For instance, Biden launched his All In-side initiative in May 2023, which aimed to reduce unsheltered homelessness by 25% by 2025. However, the latest point-in-time count showed that unsheltered homelessness increased by roughly 20%, accounting for nearly 40,000 people, between 2022 and 2023.

Advocates representing 30 housing organizations joined federal lawmakers ahead of Biden’s State of the Union speech to call on the president to address the nation’s housing issues in his speech. Biden obliged by saying he would go after “big landlords…who break antitrust law by price-fixing and driving up rents.”

He also called on Congress to pass his plan to “build and renovate 2 million affordable homes and bring those rents down,” referring to a legislative package the White House published before the speech.

Advocates like National Low Income Housing Coalition CEO Diane Yentel were pleased to hear Biden outline a series of proposals to address the country’s affordable housing crisis. She also applauded a follow-up budget proposal from the president that could create a universal rental assistance program by expanding assistance to veterans and youths aging out of foster care, two groups that are at high risk of experiencing homelessness.

“His proposed actions to prevent rent gouging are historic and a major win for renters nationwide who have been struggling with sky-high rents and who are at increased risk of housing instability due to the power imbalance between landlords and renters,” Yentel said.

While some advocates were happy to hear the president address America’s affordable housing crisis in his speech, others were hoping to hear more about how the president would address housing instability for the nation’s lowest-income earners.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director for the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco, told Invisible People that she hoped to hear the president give more specific policy approaches to ending homelessness.

For instance, Friedenbach said the Biden-Harris administration should increase the number of housing vouchers issued to 100,000 per year, invest in expanding public housing, and remove laws that restrict medically-assisted opioid treatment “so that people with substance use disorders can get access to medication as they would insulin or any other lifesaving drugs.”

“Homelessness and housing are certainly the top issues for cities, suburbs, and even rural areas around the United States,” Friedenbach said. “Meanwhile, the federal government has essentially taken a hands-off approach, leaving this major humanitarian crisis at the feet of municipal governments who don’t have the tax base to address it.”

How You Can Help

Now is not the time to be silent about homelessness in the U.S. or anywhere else. Unhoused people deserve safe and sanitary housing just as much as those who can afford rent or mortgage.

Poverty and homelessness are both policy choices, not personal failures. That’s why we need you to contact your officials and tell them you support legislation that:

  • Streamlines the development of affordable housing
  • Reduces barriers for people experiencing homelessness to enter permanent housing
  • Bolsters government response to homelessness

Together, we can solve homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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