Now more than ever, housing is a health care issue. People who don’t have safe, secure housing are struggling to follow social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines. Isolation strategies, like stocking up on food and working from home, are a luxury that many cannot afford. Businesses that have closed are already laying people off. When people earn less, they are more likely to become homeless because they can no longer afford housing.
Not surprisingly, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has confirmed that extremely low-income renters are most at risk for being inadequately housed. This NLIHC’s latest report found that no state has an adequate supply of housing. In fact, the United States faces a shortage of over 7 million affordable and available homes for renters making less than 30% of the area median income. For people who lack the safety and security of an affordable home, this pandemic could be a death sentence.
At the federal level, HUD announced a moratorium on eviction and foreclosure actions for single-family properties. Unfortunately, this action will need to be enforced and does nothing to help those who rent or are homeless. Congressional actions to date have failed to address the concerns of homeless and extremely low-income people. Funding for housing has been notably absent from legislation responding to the coronavirus pandemic. This has meant that many states and localities are scrambling to figure out how to handle a potential increase in the number of homeless people in their communities, while also protecting the health and well-being of every community member.
North Carolina has paused eviction and foreclosure hearings for the next 30 days, but income challenges could disrupt rent and housing payments for longer than that. There is also a risk that some eviction orders that were already in the pipeline are still proceeding. This means that some local sheriffs are still evicting people. No one should be pushed out of their home during a state of emergency.
North Carolina is home to 330,144 extremely low–income households, but there are only 141,278 units for these families. There are only 43 affordable and available units for every 100 extremely low-income households. As this situation has worsened, a growing number of people are forced to find refuge in shelters, hotels, and on the street. This trend will become more pronounced as businesses lay off workers due to closures and lost revenue.
Local housing bonds are good first steps toward providing more housing for those who need it most, but state and federal action is urgently needed to slow the rate of infection, narrow the housing affordability gap, and sustain healthy communities for the long-term. That starts with halting all evictions, and it ends when there are enough affordable homes for everyone. People at every income level deserve health and housing.
Leila Pedersen is a policy analyst with the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.