With millions of people in the United States unable to find housing or at risk of losing the home they have, new approaches to affordable housing are urgently needed. “A Better Way Home,” which opened at the National Building Museum on October 21, features the Homecoming Project and five other winners of the Enterprise Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge funded by Wells Fargo.
Among projects that focus, for example, on less costly, more sustainable building materials and practices, or more accessible and racially-just approaches to mortgages, the Homecoming Project stands out for its focus on formerly incarcerated people who are almost 10 times more likely to experience homelessness yet are too often excluded from conversations about affordable housing in America.
Inspired by the potential of the sharing economy to benefit more people, Impact Justice launched the Homecoming Project to match people leaving prison with local homeowners who have a spare room and want to be part of a person’s successful reentry. Instead of the individual paying rent, the project pays the host a stipend for up to six months, financially empowering both participant and host.
“A good home is everything,” one person wrote at the end of the exhibit where visitors are invited to leave comments. For people transitioning out of incarceration, a home plays an outsized role in their ability to fully rejoin their communities: Housing insecurity is clearly linked to an increased likelihood of returning to prison and the buffers that help prevent housing insecurity, like social networks and a regular income, are themselves virtually unattainable without having a stable home.
As visitors walk through “A Better Way Home,” they hear Homecoming Project participants, including Scott Duvall, describe how a home provides a foundation for tackling the many challenges that come with release: “Knowing that you’re in a stable, secure place, so when you’re out there trying to find a job, trying to establish your credit, you’re not having to worry about ‘where am I going to sleep tonight?’”
Since its launch in 2018, 100% of Homecoming Project participants have moved on to long-term housing. And through host stipends, the project has channeled dollars into communities where residents are vulnerable to rising costs of living and gentrification. In these ways and others, the Homecoming Project is not only working for participants and hosts, but also working to ensure that, as one exhibit visitor wrote, “A supportive community leaves no one behind.”
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