Battling Homelessness with Affordable Housing

Isabella Barcellona ’16 knew she wanted to do something to help fight homelessness.

But that’s a pretty overwhelming topic for a senior capstone project — even for a student as energetic and dedicated as her.

Two pieces of information helped narrow her focus:

  • The Seattle Office of Housing found that a $100 increase in median housing prices in the area correlated with a 15 percent increase in homelessness in that metro area.
  • The National Alliance to End Homelessness, meanwhile, reported that 600,000 people are homeless on any given night due to a lack of affordable housing.

“The idea that it’s all drug abuse or mental illness isn’t true,” she said.

If 70 to 80 percent of homelessness could be addressed through housing availability, those who do need support for other issues could get it more efficiently, she said.

“Those who need the help aren’t getting it,” she said.

Barcellona, majoring in environmental studies: policy, culture and society, set out to find what it would take to make housing more affordable.

The results: political will and public pressure.

She studied three local housing developments and found that affordable, sustainable developments are possible. But investors have to take a different point of view, aiming for long-term steady profits, instead of an immediate high yield.

The community, meanwhile, needs to push.

Originally from California, Barcellona said that Pacific has afforded her tremendous opportunities. She’s worked with the Center for a Sustainable Society, the Center for Gender Equity, and in other part-time jobs, while also participating in a sorority.

“Everybody talked about how amazing the professors here are. You don’t get that at other places,” she said. “There are so many opportunities I was able to take because the professors talked to us.”

For example, Barcellona was able to connect with the local community, taking her research on housing to a Forest Grove task force on the issue.

“There wasn’t that much happening even a year ago,” she said. “I want to continue with the advocacy of demanding affordable housing. It’s not only wanted, but needed. We need a social push.”

Apr. 28, 2016