Utah and Detroit Experiment with Giving Free Housing to the Homeless

Saturday, December 28, 2013
Housing for the homeless in Utah (photo: KSL)

Free housing can mean better health among the homeless and less money spent on emergency room visits. Free housing can also bring new life to an inner city struggling with blight.


That’s why the state of Utah and the city of Detroit, Michigan, are experimenting with giving away housing.


Utah’s endeavor began eight years ago under then-Governor Jon Huntsman, a Republican.


Housing First provides free apartments and full-time caseworkers for the homeless, with the expectation that putting a roof over someone will keep them healthier and less in need of ER visits. The program started with 17 homeless people, and eventually grew to include 2,000.


Although the initiative cost money to pay for the apartments, the state calculated it would still come out ahead (about $5,000 annually) because it would have to allocate fewer dollars for ER services.


Utah’s assessment was backed by a study out of San Francisco, which said housing for the homeless resulted in a 34% reduction in ER costs.


Detroit has its own share of homeless. But its free housing plan doesn’t target this population. Instead, Write-A-House gives free homes to novelists, journalists and poets.


The private nonprofit program was set up to encourage writers to remain in (or relocate to) Detroit, which has been losing people in droves during the city’s economic decline.


Write-A-House has purchased three homes, all foreclosures, located in a neighborhood hit hard by the downturn.


Once the houses are renovated, they will be provided to selected candidates, who must pay for property taxes and insurance and commit to two years writing and blogging from their new home. After that, the home will be theirs to keep.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Republican State Gives Free Houses to Moochers, Cuts Homelessness by 74 Percent (by David Weigel, Slate)

Write-A-House Aims to Renovate Detroit Houses for Poets and Novelists (by Emma Ockerman, Detroit Free Press)

At Least 20% of Homeless in U.S. are Veterans (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)



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