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Lack of affordable housing is one of Tacoma's Hydra heads of homelessness

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

Photo by Mark White, Dignity City

An encampment resident in Tacoma rests in his tent located under an overpass. A large percentage of people experiencing homelessness say they have some income, but Tacoma's lack of affordable housing leaves them unsheltered.


Jon Williams

Dignity City editor

People living in Pierce County without housing do have income — or at least 43 percent of them reported that they did for the 2020 Point-in-Time Count. Placing second on the report's list of reasons for a lack of shelter in the area is “housing affordability.” So, for a large portion of people experiencing homelessness, a job or other forms of income, don’t necessarily mean shelter, because a person working one full-time, minimum-wage job in Tacoma would have to work yet another full-time job — and then some — in order to afford a market-rate, two-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low-income Housing Coalition’s 2021 Out of Reach report.

The city’s Home in Tacoma Project addresses the need for affordable housing by tweaking land use and development plans to accommodate various housing options for people with fixed or lower incomes. Opponents to the plan say that doing so will force existing neighborhoods to accept too much development and ruin their allure.

This conflict played out recently in Tacoma mayor’s race, where incumbent Mayor Victoria Woodards supported the Home in Tacoma Plan, while her opponent, Steve Haverly was critical of the plan, fearing over-development.

Haverly also supported a ban on camping on public property, while Woodards approach was more in line with a 2018 9th Circuit Court ruling, Martin v. City of Boise, in which the court said cities could not prohibit people experiencing homelessness from camping in public places unless there is adequate shelter — which the city doesn’t supply. Woodards’ approach, which also includes the eventual banning of public camping, seems a bit more in check with reality.

It appears Woodards has won another term, so Home in Tacoma has support. One thing that officials learned recently as the Nov. 1 deadline to end street homelessness came and went, is that homelessness is a Hydra. Each head of the monster is an issue that threatens a person’s housing stability. There are many heads, so there's not just one solution.

While officials work out the details of how to supply adequate shelter for those experiencing life without shelter, it’s also important that changes in city policy, which support more housing for low-income individuals and families, are put in place as an effort to cut off one of the Hydra heads of homelessness. Full-time work should mean housing availability for those who can’t afford it now.

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