The economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has created widespread housing insecurity for renters, homeowners and the homeless population in the US.
According to the US Census Household Pulse Survey, by the end of October, 9.9 million Americans were not up-to-date on their rent or mortgage payments and had little to no confidence that their household could pay next month’s rent or mortgage on time.
“To be able to understand the eviction crisis that we’re facing today, we have to recognize where we were before Covid-19 came to our country –and that was in the midst of a severe affordable housing crisis,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).
According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the US has a shortage of 7 million affordable rental homes available to low-income renters.
Coupled with the long-term homeless crisis, many Americans are now scrambling to figure out how to obtain or sustain a place they call home under the economic toll Covid-19 has had on families and individuals across the country.
“When people are struggling to afford their rent, when they’re facing eviction, or in worst cases, when they’re homeless, their health suffers,” explained Yentel.
“There’s real, there’s real harm done, to individual people, to families, to kids to communities, and really to our whole country, when we allow homelessness and housing poverty to persist.”
Below, CNN’s Impact Your World has gathered some resources for those facing housing insecurity or homelessness during this time.
In an unprecedented move, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order that bans evictions between September 4 and December 31, 2020, estimating up to 40 million people could lose their homes if it were not in place.
To be eligible, you will need to fill out a declaration form affirming that you meet several requirements – including applying for government assistance for rent or housing. If you meet all of the conditions, you sign the declaration form and give a copy to your landlord. The NLIHC has the declaration translated into 15 languages here. Be sure to keep a copy of the document for your records.
Although the order should help distressed renters in the short term, Yentel warned it can be a double-edged sword, enabling people to get further into debt.
“They are accruing more debt over this period of Covid-19 than they can pay off in their lifetime.”
What’s more, despite the CDC moratorium, thousands of eviction actions have been filed according to data compiled by the Private Equity Stakeholders Project.
“There are long-term consequences that a renter faces, even from one eviction filing on their record. It can make it much more difficult for them to find decent, adequate and affordable housing in the future,” said Yentel.
She encourages renters to figure out whether there are resources available in their community to help them pay rent. NLIHC has a database on its website, which includes emergency rental assistance programs across the country.
If your landlord ignored your CDC rent moratorium document, Yentel suggests seeking legal help. The United States Department of Justice has a list of pro bono legal service providers across the country who can help.
Additionally, the Pew Charitable Trust and Stanford Law School created this tool to help renters research local legal information on residential renter issues during the pandemic.
Yentel also encourages renters to reach out to their representatives in Congress and let them know the struggles they are facing.
“Members of Congress in their district offices have people who are responsible for knowing all of the local programs that might be able to help.”
Non-profits, although currently strained due to the pandemic, are also a useful resource. Charities such as the Salvation Army and the United Way may also provide emergency help with utilities and rent assistance. The United Way also operates the 2-1-1 helpline and mobile app, which provides referrals to programs assisting with food, housing, financial aid, utility problems and more, 24 hours a day.
If you are struggling to pay your mortgage, you may be able to temporarily delay monthly payments if you have a federally or GSE-backed (Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac) mortgage. The reprieve is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This protection began on March 18, 2020, and extends through at least December 31, 2020. A forbearance can be approved for up to 180 days. More information about this, and other programs can be found by visiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
If you don’t have a federally or GSE-backed mortgage, you still may have relief options through your mortgage loan servicer or from your state. Find out who owns or services your mortgage here.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has suggestions of things to do after your forbearance or mortgage relief is approved.
For those experiencing homelessness
Long before Covid-19, the United States was facing a homeless crisis.
“Homelessness is the worst manifestation of inequality,” said Marybeth Shinn, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s Department of Human and Organizational Development.
Shinn described homelessness as a lagging indicator of the economic crisis induced by the pandemic.
“The first thing you do is you go double up with somebody else; you move in with your sister, with your mother, your friends, and it’s kind of down the line that people become literally homeless,” she said.
Although we haven’t seen a massive influx of those experiencing homelessness yet, Shinn says the biggest concern for those experiencing homelessness is reduced shelter space due to Covid-19 safety measures and lack of sanitation or hygiene methods.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care (CoC) Program is designed to provide funding to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused by homelessness.
If you are at risk of being homeless or in need of transitional housing, Shinn suggests first contacting a Continuum of Care resource provider so they can work with you on a long-term plan and connect you with resources for success.
HUD also has the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which allows very low-income families to lease or purchase safe and affordable housing.
If you need immediate emergency housing, HUD also has a shelter finder. Simply enter your city or zip code to find a shelter near you.
Covenant House operates shelters for homeless youth. You can use their interactive map to locate a nearby shelter by typing in your zip code, city or state.