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With 20 Million Unemployed Across America, We Need Guaranteed Rental Assistance

April 16, 2020

by Kayleigh Pratt
Senior Policy Analyst, Partnership for Strong Communities

As advocates, we oftentimes warn that many American households are only one financial emergency away from being at risk of eviction, foreclosure, or homelessness. As the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) points out in their new research note, The Need for Emergency Rental Assistance During the COVID-19 and Economic Crisis, that emergency is here. Most financial emergencies are individual emergencies, such as an unforeseen medical expense or car repair. As a result of COVID-19, we are in a collective economic crisis with dire implications for housing stability. To make up for loss of income, the federal government must implement a widespread rental assistance and thoughtful policy to soften the impact.

With over 90% of Americans living in states with stay-at-home orders, and many businesses forced to temporarily close, record numbers of people are filing for unemployment. In Connecticut, 330,000 individuals filing for unemployment in the past month – 150,000 more than the total number of claims filed in all of 2019. While passage of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has offered some temporary relief, the financial burden of losing wages for an indefinite amount of time means many families will be struggling long after the crisis is over. NLIHC suggests that a large investment in emergency rental assistance is needed to help renters without government subsidy remain stably housed.

The impact of the high rates of unemployment across the state, and the nation, are further exacerbated by the types of industry and labor force hit particularly hard by COVID-19. NLIHC notes that many low-income renters work in the jobs being most severely impacted by COVID-19 – the service industry. This includes retail, restaurants, and personal care. Consequently, NLIHC expects the impending economic downturn to further harm already struggling low- and extremely low-income renters.

NLIHC estimates between $76.1 billion and $99.5 billion in new funding will be needed in emergency rental assistance to ensure housing stability for extremely low-income and very low-income renters. In order project this need, NLIHC used the best data we have available – data from the Great Recession of 2008 – in addition to Census data demonstrating the number of cost-burdened and severely cost-burdened very low- and extremely low-income households. During the Great Recession we saw an increase in the number of families experiencing homelessness and households who were severely cost-burdened. NLIHC expects the same from this crisis, or worse.

In order to address the need resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, NLIHC recommends sufficiently funding housing programs that provide deep subsidies to keep families at risk of housing instability afloat. Among other recommendations available on their COVID-response webpage, NLIHC identifies the following urgent needs:

  • Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG): While Congress provided $4 billion in ESG funds in the CARES Act, NLIHC estimates $11.5 billion will be needed to support those experiencing homelessness.
  • National, Uniform Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures: While some states, including Connecticut, have instituted moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, NLIHC urges this must be uniform and national. 
  • Emergency Rental Assistance and Eviction Prevention: While moratoriums on evictions are helpful in the short-term, they do not address rental arrearages. NLIHC recommends $100 billion be funded to provide emergency rental assistance and eviction prevention. They recommend this assistance be provided through a combination of Emergency Solutions Grants, Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance, or the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP.

When families are already paying a large percentage of their income on housing, a crisis like the one we are facing only further exacerbates their burden. This highlights a systemic problem we have in our state and across the country: Too many families are paying too much on housing. A swift, comprehensive response will be our best chance at reducing widespread eviction and protecting families from housing instability.

In the coming weeks, the Partnership for Strong Communities will work to advocate for a change in housing policy at the scale that this crisis demands – both at the federal and state level. Click here to read our HOMEConnecticut campaign proposals for Connecticut to ensure housing stability during COVID-19, and click here to sign up for updates on what you can do to help ensure people in Connecticut have a safe and stable home during this hard time.>

Thank you for reading, and stay safe.