03/01/2013 12:25 pm ET Updated May 01, 2013

Homes For All? That's Our Goal

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Family homelessness is on the rise in our country. According to the January 2012 national homelessness counts, more than one third of the people experiencing homelessness (239,403 of a total of 633,782 individuals) were in families. We all know that times are hard. But we also know that even before the Great Recession, the number of people who had no residence was high. So why do so many people in the United States have no homes? And what can we do about it?

One reason for our continued homeless population is that housing is no longer affordable to a large number of people in our country. The Miami Coalition for the Homeless is spearheading the Miami Homes For All initiative to begin to address this problem on a local level. Back in 1950, the federal minimum wage was $.75 per hour, so a person working 40 hours per week grossed $30.00. At that time, the median monthly residential rent was $42.00, so someone working full time at minimum wage could earn almost ¾ (71 percent) of the rent with one week's wages. The rest of their wages could be spent on food, clothing, transportation and health needs. Not any more!

Since 1950, certain things have been gradually getting worse in our country for people at the low end of the economy. By 2010 (before the economic downturn), the federal minimum wage was $7.25 per hour, so someone working 40 hours grossed $290 per week. But by then, the median monthly rent had climbed to $855 per month, so someone working full time had to work almost three weeks just to gross enough to cover one month's rent. That doesn't leave much for food, clothing and transportation -- let alone medical care!

During that same year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that there were 9.8 million extremely low-income renter households in the U.S., but only 3 million rental homes that were affordable and available to them.

One solution to this huge gap in the supply of affordable housing for low-wage workers and others living in poverty is to develop more. This is what the Miami Coalition for the Homeless is attempting to do through its Miami Homes For All (MHFA) initiative. Based on Home Funders, a best practice from Boston, MHFA aims to leverage existing federal, state and local housing funding with investments from private foundations to set aside a portion of the affordable housing for the lowest income households. Our purpose is to prevent extremely-low income households from falling into homelessness due to lack of affordable housing. Given both the fiscal and the social costs of homelessness, we believe that providing such housing makes good economic sense.

We know that this model works. As of today, by using private foundation funding to leverage public dollars, Boston's Home Funders has succeeded in redirecting 845 affordable housing units to extremely-low income families within developments that encompass 2623 units of mixed-income housing. Miami Homes For All seeks to repeat this success, and to begin to document the specifics -- what works and why -- so the model can be replicated throughout the country on a large scale.

Like Home Funders, we believe that when the basic need for adequate housing is not met, investments to address the social, educational and economic needs of families and children are undermined. Our aim is to empower such economic investments in families by eliminating unaffordable housing from the survival needs confronting extremely-low income families.