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Housing Affordability and Homelessness in The Us and Singapore

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In the scholarly literature on homelessness two types of reasons for homelessness has been identified: structural and individual reasons. Almost all scholars assert structural or individual reasons as the ‘main’ source of homelessness and claim that other factors are not significant. There are few recent studies suggesting that both reasons exist in all of the homelessness cases and could not be investigated seperately. Therefore, this paper begins by exploreing both the structural and individual reasons. This paper concludes by explaining policies that were developed in order to reduce homelessness in cited cases including the United States of America, European countries, Singapore and Nigeria and discusses dismissing individual/ structural reason dichotomy in homelessness studies.


Homelessness has always been an important and widely debated issue all around the world. Therefore, different approaches that conceptualize the causes of homelessness has been brought in the scholarly literature, and many policies have been developed in order to reduce it. Some researchers who has contributed to the literature on homelessness (including Blau, 1992; Barak, 1992; Hoch & Slayton, 1989; McChesney, 1990; Wright, 1989) claim that, personal problems (such as mental illness and substance addiction issues etc.) do not contribute much to the overall homelessness rates, since this factor does not affect the number of affordable housing units. Thus, they claim that the main cause of homelessness is the structural factors including unemployment, poverty, housing market, capitalist economic system and large scale social policies. On the other hand, some other researchers claim that individual factors (including mental illness, depression, misuse of drugs, and lack of work ethics) are the main factors of homelessness since individual problems affect the number of low-income households,due to the fact that the ones with personal problems are more likely to be homeless when there is an affordable housing scarcity. Despite the fact that almost all the research on homelessnes focus either on structural and individual reasons and choose one as primary to the other one, some recent research suggests that there is no ‘’primary’’ reason of homelessness; therefore, it is necessary to consider structural and individual reasons. Since both the structural and individual reasons are determinant in homelessness and there is no single reason that can explain homelessness entirely; both of these set of reasons and the policies that have been developed in order to reduce homelessness will be presented in this essay.

Structural reasons of homelessness

Kay McChesney (1990) drew an analogy between affordable housing and musical chairs game. According to McChesney’s analogy, affordable housing is the chairs and the low-income households are the players. Assuming that the affordable houses (chairs) are less in number than the low-income households (players); when the music stops, some players will be left homeless. The analogy was derived from a drastic and clearly visible rise in homelessness in the U.S. in the 1980s and early-mid 1990s and a wave of studies aimed at assessing and recognizing the transition. Researchers who believes that the structural reasons are the main reasons of homelessness, (such as Blau, 1992; Barak, 1992; Hoch & Slayton, 1989; McChesney, 1990; Wright, 1989) accept that homeless people are more likely to have personal problems such as mental wellbeing and drug use, but they claim that this is only a sorting impact as a consequence of the limited housing market. There is an ongoing game of musical chairs: at different times, the music stops, then it begins again. A range of factors creates a continuous change in the number of players and seats. Critical structural factors may include lack of proper jobs, access to affordable houses and funding for health and the increasing gap between the rich and poor that is created by the capitalist economic system. National and local economic changes may pose difficulties for people to be paid enough wages, buy food and pay for housing.

One of the structural causes of homelessness is poverty. People who are poor are often unable to pay for basic needs like housing, food, childcare, health services, as well as education Poverty may mean that one is a disease, a serious accident, or a month without a job far from living on the street. Affordable and safe housing scarce leads directly to homelessness. For example, millions of Canadian families and individuals pay more than 50% of their income on housing are at significant risk of homelessness, just as many other families and individuals people who spend more than 30% of their income for housing (Bagakis, 2017). Housing is one of many countries and big cities ‘ most daunting governance challenges. A tenth of the EU population, for example, spends more than 40% of its discretionary income on housing throughout the EU (Pitini, Ghekière, Dijol & Kiss, 2015). The share of consumption among the poorest people is even greater. Government agencies also respond by supplying discounted rents for social housing. This caused concern about the prevalence of deprivation and concerns with the condition of basic housing and degradation in the area where public investment is not adequate.

Another important structural reason of homelessnes is the capitalist economic system’s failures. According to Peter Marcuse, “Homelessness exists not because the system is not working but because this is the way it works.” Capitalism is condemned no more than its inability to provide adequate housing for those who make up its wealth: the working class (Bagakis, 2017). Moreover, Bagakis (2017) claims that the unemployed has been used by the ruling capitalist class to demonstrate to the workforce that they were fortunate to still have their jobs, and if they rebelled, they might be unemployed.

Individual reasons of homelessness

In addition to the structural reasons, homelessness is both the cause and effect of several other problems ranging from persistent substance addiction, financial distress due to joblessness or underemployment, mental disorders, domestic violence, etc. It has often been a complicated set of conditions, decisions, and traumatic events (e.g. house fire or job loss) as well as personal crisis and relational problems (e.g. family break-up or domestic violence) that bring a person up to this point. The causes stated above are known as individual/situational reasons of homelessness.

One of the individual reasons of homelessness is relational problems. Relational problems may include violence and abuse by family members, substance addictions, and other family members ‘ mental health issues, and extreme poverty. Family violence, reported to impact 237 victims per 100,000 people (Statistics Canada, 2016) may cause individuals and families to unexpectedly leave their homes without sufficient support. That is a concern for young people and women in particular, specifically those with children. Women witnessing abuse and/or living in poverty have often been forced to choose between marriages that are unhealthy and homeless. Youth often end up facing homelessness as sexual assault victims, physical or psychological violence. Seniors who suffer maltreatment are also disproportionately at high risk of homelessness (Gaetz, Donaldson, Richter & Gulliver, 2019).

Another important individual reason of homelessness is mental illnesses/ disorders. Mental disorder is becoming a worldwide reality. This factor contributes significantly to homelessness. Severe mental disorders intervene in the capacity of individuals to conduct key aspects of everyday life, including self-care and household management. Mental disorders can also stop people from establishing and keeping healthy relationships or cause them to get confused and react irrationally to the guidance of others. It often leads to driving parents, families, and friends who may be the factor that stops the person from becoming homeless away.

According to the The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Reports in 2003, around 26% of homeless in the USA have some sort of mental disorder(in contrast, approximately 6% of citizens of the U.S. suffer from a severe mental disorder). As a consequence of all such causes and the challenges of suffering from a mental illness, mentally ill people are far more probable to end in becoming homeless than the general population. Mental health issues, particularly for homeless, affects physical health as well. Mental disorders may lead people to fail to take required measures for disease precautions. This can result in serious complications such as respiratory infections, skin diseases, or tuberculosis or HIV transmission when combined with poor sanitation and hygiene due to homelessness (Close et al., 2019).[image: ]

According The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Reports (2003), 35% of the homeless in USA also deal with substance addiction. Some people with mental disorders use ”street drugs” to self-medicate, that can also lead not just to the addictions, but also to the transmission of disease from injection. The combination of mental disorder, substance abuse, with poor physical wellbeing makes working and social security quite hard.


Public Housing Policies in the USA

  • Housing Choice Voucher Program

The housing choice voucher program is the major program of the Federal Government to help extremely low income families, disabled people and people who cannot afford safe and healthy living. This program is run locally by public housing agencies, ‘’who are givenfederal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’’. A household that is given the rental subsidy is responsible for finding a suitable family dwelling unit, which could also be their current house, where the landlord chooses to rent their house under the program. Rental units shall meet minimum health and safety standards as defined by the Department for Public Housing. On behalf of the participating household, a rental allowance is provided directly to the landlord by the public housing agency.The family then covers the difference between the real rent that the owner owes and the rate that the system subsidizes.

  • Housing First

Housing First is a recovery-oriented solution to reducing homelessness, which focuses on rapidly moving homeless people into affordable and permanent homes and then providing additional support and services as needed. It is an approach that was first popularized in the 1990s by Sam Tsemberis and Pathways to Housing in New York, but prior to this point Housing First-like schemes had appeared in 19 countries including Canada and many European countries. Housing First’s fundamental premise is that if individuals are housed in the beginning, then they are more able to move forward with their lives. A large number of studies show that Housing First is an effective approach for reducing homelessness. Consumers have easier access to housing services in Housing First system and are much more likely to stay stable. It extends to both PSH services and accelerated re-housing. PSH has a long-term housing turnover rate of up to 98%. Research has shown that accelerated re-housing allows people rapidly leave homelessness and live housed within a few months (‘Housing First – National Alliance to End Homelessness’, 2016).

According to Shinn (1994), in the United States of America, there are treatment and Housing First programs dedicated for people who have substance addiction and mental illness issues and these programs give priority for scarce housing units to the ones with mental illnesses. According to The Applicability of Housing First Models to Homeless Persons with Serious Mental Illness Final Report (2007), as in the figure on left, more than 50% of the people who live in supportive housing have a substance addiction, physchiatric disorder or both. Even though these combined treatment and housing programs help to take the burden of being homeless away from the most defenseless group of people in the society, they do not help to reduce the overall rates of homeless but only shifts the burden from one to another unless new housing units are built or the income of the low-income households are enhanced so that they could afford houses that the middle-income households live in. Most of the times, these programs result as a determinant of whom to be left homeless and whom not, as in the analogy, when the music stops.[image: ]

Public Housing Policy in Singapore

In 1959, after Singapore gained its independence from the British, the country was facing a huge housing crisis. Many citizens were living in low-hygienic standards in slums. In 1960, Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, found the Housing and Development Board (HDB). The aim of HDB was to build apartments for the poor. After a great fire, 400,000 m2 of land was razed and 16,000 people were left homeless. Within the next 5 years the government resettled the citizens living in the area razed by the fire. This fast respond for the need of the citizens paved the way to future public housing projects in the country.

Public housing in USA is generally considered as a low in quality and high in crime solution of homelessness. However this is the opposite in the case of Singapore.Singapore’s public housing landscape offers a dramatic contrast. The sheer scale of the housing programme is remarkable. As in the figure on the left, Singapore was the 2nd country in the home ownership rates in 2016.

80% of Singapore’s population live in flats built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB, 2016). At the same time, the mix of public and private is also distinctive. While planned, built, and allocated by the government, HDB flats are sold to the public on 99-year leases rather than rented, and thereafter may be traded on the resale housing market largely in the manner of private housing.


Overall, this essay shows that there can be no entirely systemical or individualistic interpretation of the homelessness issue. Amongst the researchers who has contribured to the literature on homelessness who specifically recognize that ‘the roots of homelessness do not exist solely for structural and individual reasons, but in the connection between them,’ are Snow and Anderson (Snow and Anderson, 1993). Individual / structural dichotomy should be reprogrammed implying that both causes are involved on every social phenomenon. In the contemporary world, individual and structural reasons of homelessness in a particular context can be less and more relevant than the other, but neither can be more important than the other and they should be considered equally. Policies that were cited above as well as many others has largely dismissed the individual/ structural dichotomy and began to develop approaches that tackle the insecurity and reintegration into the housing and labor markets of the poor and homeless. If future research are conducted not to underline one set of factors or to create scepticism about the other factors, but to explain the essence of the essential interplay between structural and individual factors, then it would make a big contribution to understanding the contemporary homelessness.


  • Bagakis, G. (2019). Homelessness: One of Capitalism’s Many Inevitable Products. Retrieved 20 December 2019, from
  • Close, L., Thomas, S., Kelley, R., Stein, S., Osbourne, N. and Ackermann, K. (2019). Addiction Among The Homeless Population | Sunrise House. [online] Sunrise House. Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2020].
  • Gaetz, S., Donaldson, J., Richter, T., & Gulliver, T. (2019). The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013. Toronto: Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press. Retrieved from
  • Housing First – National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2016). Retrieved 20 December 2019, from
  • McChesney, K. (1990). Family Homelessness: A Systemic Problem. Journal Of Social Issues, 46(4), 191-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1990.tb01806.x
  • Shinn, M., & Weitzman, B. C. (1994). You Can’t Eliminate Homelessness Without Housing. American Behavioral Scientist, 37(3), 435–442.
  • Snow, D. A., & Anderson, L. (1993). Down on their luck A study of homeless street people (p. 270). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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Housing Affordability And Homelessness In The US And Singapore. (2021, October 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from
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