Migrant surge makes U.S. housing crisis worse
A surge in new migrants is colliding with the U.S.' housing crisis, and even putting a minor dent in the shelter problem is costing state and local governments millions.
Why it matters: Cities simply don't have enough affordable homes, enough shelters or enough money to help everyone who needs it, straining scarce resources and leaving thousands of people out on the street.
The big picture: Soaring housing costs and the end of some pandemic-era safety nets have fueled an affordable housing shortage, causing homelessness to rise in many cities.
- Homelessness in the U.S. had a record spike from 2022 to 2023, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.
- Now, state and local officials are also scrambling to house thousands of migrants arriving from the border.
What they're saying: "We need more units. We need to confront the broader housing crisis," New York City Comptroller Brad Lander tells Axios in an interview.
- "If we can help folks that have been in shelter a long time get housing subsidies, and if we can help asylum seekers get work authorizations ... they won't be competing for the same units," he adds.
Zoom in: New York City is legally required to provide shelter to anyone who requests it. The city was caring for nearly 60,000 migrants and asylum seekers at the beginning of September, according to the comptroller's office.
- Migrants accounted for more than half of the city's shelter population, according to a report released this month.
- It just announced a lease of a World War II-era airfield as an emergency shelter site.
Chicago homeless advocates estimate the city has more than 68,000 unhoused people, in addition to nearly 9,500 migrants.
- City officials tell Axios they expect migrant support efforts to cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars this year. Local advocates say that's more than they've ever seen deployed toward the local homeless population, though a city official told a community meeting this summer that homelessness resources aren't being diverted to aid migrants.
- "Chicago's severely underfunded homelessness system has led to fighting for scarce resources," the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless says in a statement released to Axios.
- "We should not be pitting Black and Brown communities against each other. We must and can do better."
- Caring for migrants has cost the city more than $24 million. It has also used federal dollars to bus newcomers elsewhere.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey estimated the state is spending $45 million monthly to shelter unhoused people and migrants.
- The number of families in state shelters reached a new all-time high of 6,528 last week — nearly half of them in hotels or motels.
Washington, D.C., established an office dedicated to migrants in 2022 in an effort to avoid overwhelming its homeless social services.
- By next month, D.C. likely will have spent $55.8 million this year on the crisis, with $9 million covered by a FEMA grant, the city tells Axios.
Between the lines: The colliding crises have made for a politically tense issue, often pitting cities against their suburbs.
- Some efforts to increase housing — including zoning changes to build lower-cost suburban units — have failed in New York and Colorado amid local pushback.
- Officials in suburban Boston cities say they were caught off guard by the state's decision to place migrants in their communities and have asked for more funding and transparency.
What we're watching: It could get worse. Border cities have long had systems to handle migrant influxes — but even they have been overwhelmed and expect it to happen again.
- El Paso has twice in the past year seen hundreds sleeping on the street due to maxed-out shelters.
- Opportunity Center for the Homeless deputy director John Martin tells Axios the city is preparing for a "third wave," with dozens of migrants already camping outside.
- Many of the newcomers will likely move to other major cities. Martin acknowledges those cities' challenges but says, "To me, it's a shared responsibility."
The bottom line: When populations feel pitted against one another, Lander says, "you can wind up stoking flames that can be dangerous ... I think there's a real risk that the flames of xenophobia get fanned."
Axios Boston's Steph Solis and Axios D.C.'s Cuneyt Dil contributed reporting.