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United Way Blog

Affordable Housing Is A Problem in America, But Many Communities Seek Solutions

After four strokes, five open heart surgeries and a coma, doctors told Malcom he needed a heart transplant, right away. Omaha, Nebraska was the best option, but required a move. an affordable place to live, and starting over.

His wife, Jackie, was forced to close the restaurant she owned in Missouri to be a full-time caregiver. “So not only was I dealing with the physical and emotional hardship of his health condition, but we were also struggling financially – all in the middle of the pandemic,” she recalls. 

It was overwhelming.  But Jackie called 211. The 24/7 resource supported by United Way connects people to local help across 99% of the U.S. and all of Canada. In less than 30 days, Jackie and Malcom moved into a handicap accessible home, with utilities support until she got back on her feet.  “I think it played a major part in his recovery,” she says now. He agrees, adding “without 211 doing what they did for her, I don’t know where we’d be. I don’t know where I would be.’ See the couple's story in the video below.

The struggle for safe, affordable housing in America is real. Housing is the #1 need for people in the U.S. who call 211. United Way Worldwide’s 2023 211 Impact Survey – the only of its kind to collect data from all 50 states – shows that housing assistance referrals continue to increase, with total referrals nearly double pre-pandemic numbers.

  • Housing-related requests were up in 2023 to 5.3 million compared to 2.6 million in 2018.
  • Referrals for housing assistance continue to increase year after year, with housing serving as a top social service need requested over the last six years.
  • More than 1 in 4 referrals made by 211 specialists were related to housing.

That data reflects a housing supply and affordability crisis across the country. Experts say the U.S. lacks between 3.8 million and 6.8 million homes, and most renters feel priced out of homeownership as housing prices have increased 54% since 2019. Analysts attribute last year’s 12% rise in homelessness to mounting housing costs and a dire shortage of deeply affordable units – as pandemic-era resources and protections dwindle.

Supporting Housing Instability
Jackie and Malcom’s struggle in Omaha is reflected in Nebraska’s 211 data:  calls for help with housing have increased 40% since before the pandemic. A combination of low inventory, unsafe properties, high rent and escalating housing prices are driving residents to housing instability and homelessness.

This is why United Way of the Midlands in Omaha is supporting local sustainability clinics for individuals experiencing housing insecurity. At these events, United Way conducts outreach to offer additional supports and resources, to help families experiencing housing insecurity address other pressing needs.

Advocacy and Volunteer-Driven Solutions
Like Omaha, Minneapolis struggles with housing insecurity. with more than 54% of the calls, emails or web visits to Greater Twin City United Way’s 211 were seeking help for housing or utilities. United Way has taken a holistic approach, supporting 33 Minneapolis-area nonprofits working on housing stability, leading initiatives addressing the problem, including programs designed to prevent homelessness for youth leaving foster care or prison, and Home For Good, which supports families transitioning from homelessness to stable housing. Last year, volunteers engaged by United Way provided more than 700 families with Welcome Home bins full of towels, hygiene items, kitchen utensils and more. Bremer Bank is a key partner supporting the Home For Good program.  

Greater Twin Cities United Way has also helped secure $1 billion in state investments in stable housing in Minnesota, throughnits advocacy efforts last year.

Eviction Support 
During COVID, federal funding was available for emergency rental assistance. But that’s dried up; and subsequently, rent increases have fueled a steep increase in evictions across the U.S.

In Seattle, the waiting list for people needing rental assistance has grown from several hundred to more than 11,000—with more than 1,600 applicants added each month. In response, United Way of King County partnered with the Seattle-based Housing Justice Project to provide free, legal assistance to renters facing eviction. “Legal assistance is available, even if rental assistance is not,” said Gordon McHenry, CEO of United Way King County. Attorneys can help clients negotiate settlements with landlords to stave off evictions, he said. In addition to providing free legal assistance, United Way’s eviction protection work also provides flexible funds and case management.

Building Housing Inventory 
During COVID, many people left larger, urban areas for smaller, more affordable communities. But for Greenville,  South Carolina, the resulting population growth and real estate boom has put affordable housing out of reach for many. More than 13,163 households in the Greenville area spend more than 50% of their income on rent, and experts say the community needs about 20,000 low-cost housing units to meet current demand.

United Way of Greenville County is working to produce new housing, using legislative, operational and financial methods to facilitate the construction of more housing and to improve quality of existing affordable units. United Way and its partners are also working to increase low- and moderate-income households' access to private market housing; to increase housing stability for tenants at risk of displacement and homelessness; and to connect individuals experiencing chronic homelessness with stable, unconditional housing and support services.

While United Way and our partners are mobilizing communities across our global network to help all people thrive, the lack of affordable housing continues to be a challenge for too many Americans. Get involved by contacting your local United Way.




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