For Americans, the COVID-19 public health emergency has affected virtually every aspect of life, including reducing social contact and disrupting economic activity. The pandemic has caused a surge in unemployment, exacerbating the problem of affordable housing shortages, as well as deepening social inequalities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased housing instability
Millions of already-struggling families are being pushed further and further into poverty. Even before the arrival of COVID-19, 20.8 million US households were classed as severely cost-burdened, meaning that they spent at least 30 percent of their household income on utilities and rent. Job losses caused by the pandemic have resulted in many individuals forfeiting on mortgage repayments or lacking sufficient funds to pay their rent.
Housing foreclosures and evictions as a result of the pandemic have added more strain to the existing homelessness crisis in the United States. While financial aid has been made available through the US Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, many experts warn that the legislation fails to go far enough in terms of alleviating the pandemic’s long-term economic impact.
To achieve meaningful change, policymakers must focus on a range of systemic issues that cause people to experience homelessness, from a long-term lack of safe, affordable housing to systemic inequalities. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, several states enacted strident anti-eviction measures, protecting homeowners and tenants who are struggling to pay their mortgage or rent.
Endorsing the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act in late December 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo explained the importance of supporting tenants, mortgagors, and seniors, highlighting the need to help them get back onto their feet once the pandemic ends. Housing rights advocates praised the legislation, but warned that more needs to be done in terms of protecting homeowners and tenants nationwide.
In a recent report, Cynthia Puddu, the assistant professor in the Faculty of Health and Community Studies at MacEwan University in Alberta, examined the impact of the pandemic on North America’s poorest families, highlighting the need for the US and Canadian governments to look at ways of bridging the gap in terms of spiraling rental costs, stagnating wages, and an overall lack of affordable housing throughout the North American continent.
COVID-19 has triggered the most severe housing crisis in US history
According to statistics published by the US Census Bureau, up to 40 million Americans are currently at risk for eviction. While the US housing crisis started long before the arrival of COVID-19, the pandemic has proved a tipping point in an already precarious situation.
In December 2020, the Census Bureau published its Household Pulse Survey, indicating that 1.7 million Americans were likely to face eviction within the next two months. Over 1 million of those respondents were families with children.
Experts predict that evictions could make the COVID-19 crisis worse
With millions of families evicted from their homes, many will be forced to stay with family or friends or rely on crowded temporary shelters, increasing the spread of COVID-19. According to modeling by a University of Pennsylvania research team, evictions not only cause infections to increase, but they also trigger a disproportionate increase in mortality rates.
Researchers from the John Hopkins University and UCLA compared states that enforced eviction moratoriums between March and September 2020 with those that did not. The study linked an additional 433,700 COVID-19 cases and 10,700 deaths directly to the lifting of eviction moratoriums.
In California, officials extended the eviction moratorium to June 2021
As part of the plan, Governor Gavin Newsom and top legislative leaders agreed to use federal funds to help some tenants pay unpaid rent, a move that will be welcomed by organizations like LifeMoves, a local charity supporting families and individuals experiencing homelessness.
LifeMoves, which has faced unprecedented demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, strives to provide clients with continued support in frightening, confusing times, working 24/7 to address the serious risks presented by COVID-19 to local homeless populations.
Implementing a range of special programs in response to the pandemic, LifeMoves has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for its Emergency Relief Fund and has appealed to members of the public, requesting donations of much-needed items such as towels, blankets, and linens. The organization has also appealed to sponsors and volunteers to support its meal program, which feeds more than 1,200 people across its service sites and shelters.
In response to health threats posed by COVID-19, LifeMoves has taken strident steps to protect clients, volunteers, and staff, including:
- Modifying meal programs to promote social distancing
- Increasing supplies of disinfectant, hand sanitizers, and soap at service sites
- Providing training for volunteers and staff on CDC best practices
- Enhancing and increasing frequency of cleaning cycles across all sites
- Enhancing meal-service safety protocols
- Providing masks at all sites
In response to a constantly evolving health emergency, LifeMoves has worked closely with county officials on contingency planning for a broad spectrum of health scenarios affecting the shelter environment and implemented outreach programs to support California’s unsheltered population. The organization also shares best practices and updates with community partners and numerous other aid providers.