As the coronavirus pandemic approaches the one-year mark, we are thinking about how the crisis continues to highlight the nation-wide need for more affordable housing, assistance for low-income renters, and local solutions to the rising tide of homelessness that may overtake our safety net systems when federal and state eviction moratoriums expire months from now.
The Triangle has experienced skyrocketing housing costs and a consistent loss of affordable housing options for people at the lower end of the income scale for years. Even before the pandemic, people of color were particularly hard hit by the housing crisis; people of color are consistently overrepresented in the homeless population and African Americans faced 80% of the evictions filed across the country. Black households are approximately twice as likely to be evicted as white households.
People of color are also more likely to be evicted during the pandemic. Moratoria on evictions have certainly prevented evictions and resulting homelessness since the start of the pandemic. The loss of one paycheck – or a hospitalization, a car accident, or a job loss – can lead to eviction for a renter without savings. And once someone has an eviction on his record, it makes it much harder to find another landlord willing to rent to him. Moratoria at the state and federal levels have saved millions of families from searching for housing with an eviction on their record
The eviction pauses have also quite certainly saved lives. It’s likely that moratoria on evictions and on utility disconnections have prevented the spread of illness during the pandemic, by allowing people to shelter in place in their homes and avoid crowded shelters or doubling up with family or friends. Localities with policies to protect renters in place saw a lower rate of infection and death from COVID-19. In contrast, people living in crowded situations, multigenerational homes, or congregate settings were at much higher risk of contracting and spreading the illness.
Unfortunately, an eviction moratorium or a ban on utility shut offs do not erase the debt a renter accumulates while she is unable to pay. Renters and homeowners who owe payments will continue to owe that money – sometimes as a lump sum – and could be evicted when moratoria are lifted if they are unable to catch up and resolve that debt. Assistance for struggling renters is included in federal COVID relief bills. Those funds will protect renters from facing overwhelming debt after a year of financial hardship. Many advocates think that Congress must provide more money and make it easier for renters to access relief funds.
If Congress, states, and localities do not act to protect renters, The Aspen Institute has predicted that as many as 40 million renters could face eviction. Facing eviction, people will be forced back into shelters, living on the streets, or doubling up with family or friends, increasing the likelihood of infection and transmission before the end of the pandemic. Our social services provide a critical safety net and critical, life saving assistance when people face homelessness after an eviction. But our systems simply will not survive a massive influx of tens of millions of renters suddenly evicted from their homes when moratoria end.
And, before moratoria end, North Carolina renters face the threat of utility shut offs if they cannot keep up with their bills. A prior executive order to prohibit disconnection of gas, electric, and water services during the pandemic has expired, so companies can shut off power or water today, leaving renters in increasingly unsafe living conditions during the winter months.
At CASA, we’ve taken careful action to make sure our renters don’t face insurmountable debt when the pandemic finally ends. Since March 2020, CASA has distributed over $120,000 in COVID-specific cash relief. Those funds were used to answer over 430 requests – for rent relief (98 requests), groceries (219 requests), and utilities (19 requests). We’ve also been able to help with equipment for tenants who found work-from-home employment opportunities, supplies for new babies and school aged kids, security deposits and furniture costs to speed up our move in process, and PPE for staff and tenants to make sure we are all staying as safe as possible. $37,000 remains in that fund today to continue to help with ongoing needs thanks to the generosity of our community.
What can you do?
Give to CASA’s COVID Relief Fund (just leave us a note that your gift is for COVID Relief)
Advocate for more relief for the most vulnerable members of our communities, including protections for renters at risk of eviction or utility shut off. You can contact Gov Cooper and encourage him to reissue executive orders to help renters.