Homelessness is expensive. In Pennsylvania, it’s become more common.

As national numbers dropped, homelessness here continued to climb to more than 15,400 residents in January 2015, including more than 4,000 school-aged children.

To combat this and to increase housing for Pennsylvanians who can’t afford average market-rate rent and residents in government-assisted nursing homes, the state’s Department of Human Services [DHS] today announced a five-year plan to make affordable housing easier to find.

The average market rent in the state is $739 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, the state said.

Sound affordable? The state’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. That’s about half the money needed for that $739 one-bedroom to be considered affordable, according to the state.

Among the strategies outlined by DHS is a partnership with the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency to implement federal renting assistance and find 250 eligible apartments with help from county agencies. The state is developing a system to refer extremely low-income families to housing and, by 2020, wants the partnership to include 450 more apartments.

In that time, the state wants to partner with counties and grow the program to refer possible tenants to affordable apartments.

Households considered to be extremely low income make less than $21,106 per year, the state said. With that income, the maximum affordable rent (defined as being no more than 30 percent of a household’s income) is $528 per month.

As Pennsylvania’s homeless population has risen 4.65 percent from 2012 to 2015, the percentage of homeless Americans has declined 9.35 percent.

The state estimates that finding housing for 500 residents who are chronically homeless could save $4.3 million in yearly healthcare expenses.

Similarly, the state estimates that transitioning 500 residents to independent housing from government-assisted nursing homes or state facilities could save $15.7 million per year.

Nationally, nursing home expenses are roughly double those of community-based care, the state said. At least 53,500 Pennsylvanians live in government-assisted nursing homes or state facilities.

Under the state’s plan, managed care organizations are required to identify housing needs for recipients of the state’s Community HealthChoices program, which is intended to increase community housing for aging Pennsylvanians and residents with disabilities.

The state plans to create incentives for managed care organizations to get more residents living outside of facilities and to maximize Medicaid funding to support housing.

Additionally, the state wants to partner with criminal justice agencies to identify and expand housing for individuals leaving incarceration who suffer from serious mental illness or substance abuse disorders.

For more on the state’s strategy, read the full plan here.

All graphics embedded in this post are from the DHS housing plan.

Reach Jeffrey Benzing at 412-515-0062 or at jbenzing@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @jabenzing.

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