The Biden administration has launched a major initiative to fight homelessness across the country.

Marcia Fudge, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), along with other officials unveiled House America: An All-Hands-On-Deck Effort to Address the Nation’s Homelessness Crisis on Monday.

Marcia Fudge
Marcia Fudge

The new initiative calls on state, tribal, and local leaders to partner with HUD to use American Rescue Plan (ARP) and other resources to set and achieve ambitious goals to rehouse at least 100,000 households experiencing homelessness through a Housing First approach, and to add at least 20,000 new units of affordable housing into the development pipeline by Sept. 30, 2022.

Through ARP, communities have historic housing resources—70,000 emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion in HOME grants, and significant investments to preserve and protect housing on tribal lands—to help more Americans obtain the safety of a stable home. ARP also provides $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds through the Treasury Department to support the many needs communities face, including homelessness and housing instability, as they respond to the pandemic and its negative economic impacts, according to HUD.

“The pandemic has shown us that we, as a nation, are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us,” said Fudge. “Addressing homelessness is not only about helping the individuals and families who face the greatest housing challenges, but also about the well-being and economic security of our communities and our whole nation. It’s going to take government working at all levels to address homelessness and to guarantee housing as a right for every American. The Biden-Harris administration looks forward to working alongside state and local partners on solutions that help to eradicate homelessness. By leveraging American Rescue Plan resources and other federal funds through a Housing First approach, we can ensure more people have a safe, stable place to call home.”

The move comes at a time when homelessness has been on the rise. The 2020 point-in-time count found roughly 580,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in America. It was the fourth consecutive year that homelessness increased nationwide.

Officials added that COVID-19 has created greater urgency around the issue, given the heightened risks faced by people experiencing homelessness. At the same time, COVID-19 has slowed rehousing activities due to capacity issues and impacts on rental market vacancies.

During a virtual event, Fudge was joined by several governors, mayors, and other leaders, who are supporting House America. Participants in the initiative are asked to set and achieve specific goals for rehousing individuals and creating new affordable and supportive housing units, a move that will help create urgency around the issue.

Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland, California, said her city is setting a goal of rehousing 1,500 individuals as well as building 132 new units of housing in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area market.

“Ending homelessness should not just be a crisis response to a pandemic,” Schaaf said. “It is good public policy. Let us take this moment and demonstrate that this is how America should look and feel.”

In Mesa, Arizona, the median price for a single-family home increased 29%, according to mayor John Giles, noting that rental rates increased 16% to 19% depending on the number of bedrooms.

He said his region’s initial goal is to create about 1,225 new units throughout Maricopa County, which would solve 25% of the area’s overall demand.

Maine is another participant in House America with a target to rehouse 1,000 households that are experiencing homelessness and to add at least 500 affordable or supportive housing units to its pipeline, said Gov. Janet Mills.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said shelters solve sleep, but housing and supportive services go toward the long-term goal of solving homelessness.

He added that California is stepping up and not just putting its hands out for assistance, citing the state’s $12 billion commitment over two years to tackle homelessness. “We’re going all in,” Newsom said. “We don’t want to play on the margins anymore.”