This volume represents a new theoretical and empirical approach to the study of homelessness. Rather than focusing on the behavioral characteristics and social deviance of the homeless themselves, the incomes, rents, and demographic characteristics of a population of renters who may be at risk of homelessness are examined. Based on a study in four U.S. metropolitan areas of changes over an eight year period in the stock of low-cost rental housing and the need of low-income households for affordable housing, Karin Ringheim contends that the extent of homelessness in individual areas is not simply related to the extent of poverty in those areas. Rather, she argues, the increase in the number and change in composition of the homeless population is a direct result of the severity of the housing squeeze and the demographic characteristics of those most vulnerable to housing loss. Among the issues the study addresses are the mismatch between available rental housing stock and what would be affordable to the low income population, changes in the cost and quality of rental housing over time, and changes in the demographic characteristics of increasingly vulnerable renters.
Following an introductory chapter, Ringheim proposes a theory of structural change and discusses the two most prominent competing theories of homelessness. She develops the criteria used to select the the four metropolitan areas that form the focus of the study: Baltimore, Houston, Chicago, and Seattle. After describing the data and methodology used in the study, the author devotes a chapter to background and analysis of each of the metropolitan areas individually. A separate chapter explores the relationship between the quality and price of rental housing, while the final chapter summarizes the findings and discusses their policy implications. In addition to demonstrating that the increase in the homeless population has been accompanied by a decrease in the supply of low-cost rental housing and an increase in the demand for it, Ringheim shows that both supply and affordability have been adversely affected by changes in federal policy during the 1980s, suggesting that these changes are directly linked to the increase in homelessness. Sociologists, economists, urban planners, and public policy makers involved in seeking solutions to the growing problem of homelessness, as well as those concerned with housing and tenure, will find this volume insightful and informative.