Rose Bak

Housing (in)Stability

Posted by | Rose Bak, Chief Program Officer

In a region that has already experienced increasingly high rates of homelessness and instability over the last ten years, the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to impact our community for years to come. Catholic Charities’ Chief Program Officer, Rose Bak, illustrates the urgent need for more systemic supports for those experiencing, or who are vulnerable to, houselessness.

According to a joint report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, upwards of 43% of American households are at risk of eviction by the end of this year. [1] While they are protected by a statewide eviction moratorium right now, eventually those protections will expire and unless a relief package is approved by Congress or the state, all of that back rent will come due. Many other renters and homeowners have been able to cobble together the funds to keep their payments current, using emergency housing assistance programs, spending down savings or by going without food or medicine.

None of those situations is sustainable. As protections and emergency programs expire, we are looking at the potential for widespread homelessness that this nation hasn’t seen since the Great Depression, as detailed by Emma Ockerman on VICE. [2]

Homeless service systems are already struggling with the number of people seeking services much greater than available funds. The implications of increasing homelessness are dire:

  • Evictions, foreclosures and other collection debts can stay on someone’s credit report for as long as seven years, impacting their ability to secure new housing, finance cars or even get a job.
  • Women living on the street or in their cars are subjected to great violence, generally within 72 hours of becoming homeless (Alameda Family Services, 2020). [3]
  • The National Coalition for the Homeless states that the life span of a person experiencing homelessness can be decreased by as many as twenty years or more, exacerbated by trauma, insufficient hygiene and inability to manage chronic health conditions. [4]
  • Children who experience even a few months of homelessness can quickly fall one or more grade levels behind their peers.

Now is the time for the entire country to come together to prevent homelessness. History has shown us that this can be done. The country built tens of thousands of subsidized housing units in just a few short years as we emerged from the Great Depression and into World War II. A national commitment to build affordable housing at that scale may be the only way to keep our citizens stably housed.

Our first priority should be to keep people who are housed from losing their homes. Rent and mortgage assistance, grants, and utility assistance that is widely available and has as few requirements as possible can get us there. The assistance needs to be comparable to the problem. A study by Statista found the average rent in the U.S. is $1,468, while data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the average mortgage payment is over $1,500. [5,6] The $1,200 stimulus checks people received this spring, while helpful, did not pay for even a full month’s housing for many.

Our next priority should be to get people who have lost their housing into new housing as soon as possible. By decreasing the amount of time someone is homeless, we minimize the severe and traumatic effects of being homeless. This assistance includes having sufficient affordable housing available, assisting with deposits and initial rent payments, and helping people get utilities turned on. We can help prevent those who become situationally homeless from moving into chronic homelessness.

Finally, we need bold interventions to help people who have been living on the street for six months or more.

This population has been particularly hard hit during the pandemic as services have closed and fear of disease and violence has increased. No one is homeless because they choose to be. If housing and services are available from someone they have a trusting relationship with, most people will accept help to move out of homelessness and stabilize into permanent housing.

This help includes transitional housing, like our Kenton Women’s Village, and help accessing permanent housing including deposits, rent payments and supplies to set up a household like furniture, housewares and linens. It also includes behavioral health counseling, addictions treatment, and life skills training to transition from the kinds of behaviors that keep a person safe on the streets to the kinds of behaviors that keep someone stably housed.

The homelessness crisis can seem overwhelming, and it will get significantly worse as a result of the pandemic if we don’t take immediate action. The good news is that we know what works: housing that is affordable for everyone, and services for those that need them. The question is: are we willing to make a commitment to get the job done?

Sources:

[1] National Low Income Housing Coalition, Benfer, E., Robinson, D. B., Butler, S., Edmonds, L., Gilman, S., McKay, K. L., Neumann, Z., Owens, L., Steinkamp, N., & Yentel, D. (2020, August). THE COVID-19 EVICTION CRISIS: AN ESTIMATED 30-40 MILLION PEOPLE IN AMERICA ARE AT RISK. National Low Income Housing Coalition. https://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/The_Eviction_Crisis_080720.pdf

[2] Ockerman, E. (2020, August 7). America Could Have “Great Depression” Levels of Homelessness by Year’s End. VICE. https://www.vice.com/en/article/935g7p/america-could-have-great-depression-levels-of-homelessness-by-years-end

[3] Alameda Family Services. (n.d.). Alameda family services. Retrieved December 7, 2020, from https://www.alamedafs.org/statistics.html

[4] National Coalition for the Homeless. (2018, December 21). Mortality Archives. https://nationalhomeless.org/category/mortality/

[5] Statista. (2020, November 6). Average monthly apartment rent in the U.S. 2016-2020. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1063502/average-monthly-apartment-rent-usa/

[6] United States Census Bureau. (n.d.). U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: United States. Census Bureau QuickFacts. Retrieved December 7, 2020, from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/HSG650218

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