Counties are utilizing collaborations and partnerships when trying to solve housing insecurity challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local officials highlighted best practices and county solutions when it comes to housing during NACo’s Housing and COVID-19: Mobilizing Resources to Support Residents session March 26.
There is an enormous amount of back rent owed across the country that is greater than the amount of rental assistance available, according to the Aspen Institute’s Senior Program Manager Katherine Lucas McKay.
McKay highlighted her work with the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which developed an eviction risk estimate based on census surveys and financial information from before the pandemic hit. According to the research, about 20 million people currently live in households that are behind on rent.
“Even though the economy has begun to improve since the vaccine rollout really has kicked into speed in the last two months, we still are in a very serious position in terms of the number of people at risk,” McKay said.
She added that many people are concerned about how they will pay next month’s rent, specifically families with children and communities of color.
“It’s really getting to be a problem that reflects the exact same housing disparities we saw before the crisis that just magnified to an intensity that we have not seen before,” she said.
McKay said eviction moratoria are incredibly important in aiding individuals who are facing housing insecurity.
“By one estimate, the eviction moratorium that the CDC implemented last fall saved about 10,000 lives so making sure that people are able to stay in their homes is critical,” she said. “Plus, making sure that they are also able to resolve the rent challenges as they stay in their homes is also critical. One does not really work without the other.”
Key actions need to be taken to address the growing payment issues and the challenges that arise when landlords refuse to participate in certain assistance programs, she said.
Future stabilization is key, she noted, adding that a number of programs have started to provide funding for a few months’ rent moving forward.
“Rental assistance programs that only pay that back rent without ensuring that people have the capacity to pay rent going forward sometimes solve a problem without solving the full problem,” she said.
The American Rescue Plan included an additional $23 billion in rental assistance.
“This is an opportunity to kind of revamp programs a little bit and do things like implement negotiations with landlords, allow for things like tenants to move and use some of their rental assistance to actually cover those costs of moving,” she said.
Mono County, Calif. Supervisor Jennifer Kreitz said when the state shut down last March, the county was quick to enact an eviction moratorium for residential and commercial tenants.
“We knew right away that our tenants in Mono County were going to have trouble paying rent because of the lack of business due to tourism being shut down basically throughout the state,” she said.
The county turned to partnerships to form collaborations and create safety nets for tenants including working with a nonprofit partner.
In Mecklenburg County, N.C., officials also turned to local partnerships.
Robert Nesbit, policy and operations manager for Health and Human Services, said the county provided nearly $2.8 million in CARES Act funding for rent and utility assistance and committed more than $7 million in FEMA funds to support homeless individuals including utilizing a hotel designated for homeless individuals over the age of 60 with underlying health conditions. At the site, staff worked to connect individuals to permanent housing, employment, substance use and mental health services.
“It shows the web of services that are needed to really help support people at all sorts of different experiences with homelessness and housing instability,” he said.
He highlighted the important role partnerships played.
“We’ve relied on close collaborations with an array of community partners,” he said, “so it’s critical that you identify trusted partners who can help you reach the most people as quickly and easily as possible.”Hero 1