One week ago on Veterans Day, we took time to thank men and women in uniform for their service to our country. But for the millions of veterans experiencing homelessness and housing instability, our gratitude only goes so far.
There are roughly 62,000 homeless veterans on any given night – over 5,000 of whom live in Texas. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, “In January 2010 four states – California, Florida, New York, and Texas – accounted for 50 percent of all homeless veterans across the country.” And it's not just because these states are the most populous. According to the VA, “These four states accounted for 32 percent of the U.S. population, and 28 percent of the total veteran population.”
While veterans sleeping on the streets provide the most visible reminders of the way we neglect our veterans upon their return, even veterans who aren't homeless face very high rates of housing instability – especially in Texas. These are veterans who have enough money to pay for roofs over their heads, but they're paying so much that any unforeseen expense can put them at risk for being unable to continue doing so. According to a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), “For low income veterans and their families, this means they may be one paycheck or one emergency away from being homeless.”
There's more after the jump.The NLIHC report shows that nationwide, there are 1.5 million veterans (more than one in four) who are considered “severely cost burdened” because they pay more than fifty percent of their incomes towards housing. Among extremely low-income veterans, the rate is astronomical, with 70 percent of extremely low-income veterans considered severely cost-burdened nationwide.
In Texas, the number is even higher, with 72 percent of extremely low-income veterans paying more than half of their income towards rent. This puts Texas in the bottom quartile of states in terms of access to affordable housing for its low-income veterans. The problem is even worse for veterans who have served post-9/11. Almost all (9 out of 10) of the extremely low-income veterans in this group are severely cost burdened.
We may not be able to guarantee high salaries or fulfilling careers for returning veterans, but we should at least be able to provide a basic level of human dignity through housing. And it's not just that providing affordable housing for veterans is the right thing to do – it also makes economic sense. The NLIHC report notes that, “the cost of care for a homeless veteran, including hospitalizations and reimbursement for community-based shelters, is three times greater than for a housed veteran.”
Earlier this month, two amendments passed (with overwhelming support) in Texas that will provide some housing-related relief to veterans and their families. One was Proposition 1, which provides property tax exemptions for surviving military spouses of those killed in action. The other was Proposition 4, which provides property tax exemptions for partially disabled veterans. While these are certainly important amendments, they primarily provide benefits to veterans who are homeowners. But for the thousands of veterans who cannot afford to buy or even rent homes, we have a long way to go.