Solving Homelessness: Title V's Shortcomings and Potential Explained

The Title V program makes the hard parts of solving homelessness—finding the money and the property—a lot easier. So why hasn't it been used at a much larger scale?1

Title V—that’s the name of the 1987 provision that transfers disused federal properties to homeless-service providers—addresses one of the most vexing questions dogging many American cities. There’s vacant property everywhere, and there are homeless people everywhere. So why the hell don’t we use that property to house the homeless?

Title V was designed to do exactly this with millions of acres of unused federal land. But the rule is obscure, and until recently, making use of it involved overcoming some challenging obstacles.

Still, to date, Title V has created some 500 emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities, nonprofit offices, and other spaces using about 900 acres of federal land across 30 states and D.C. Thanks to changes in the law passed by Congress late in 2016, Title V is a more effective tool today for turning back the large (and growing) tide of homelessness in the U.S.


Title V raises the intriguing prospect of turning the possibly soon-to-be-vacated Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters into a homeless shelter—a proposal that CityLab has floated before.

The National Capital Planning Commission has issued design guidelines on what sort of redevelopment could happen on the site where the hulking J. Edgar Hoover Building stands today, if and when Congress finds the money to move the FBI to Prince George’s County. Presumably, an empty FBI headquarters would be deemed unused, underused, excess, or surplus (unless it was given to a different federal agency). Before the government could sell the parcel to a developer, under Title V, it would first need to throw the building up on HUD Exchange to see whether anyone could find a use for it.