News Roundup

  • Rural Communities Need More Attention during COVID-19

    Though the bulk of COVID-19 coverage focuses on urban hotspots like New York City, the pandemic is hitting rural communities hard, too. For rural communities where more than a quarter of units are inhabited part time by vacationers, the rate of COVID-19 diagnosis is more than double the rate of cases in counties where a greater share of the population are full-time residents. Jessica Carson, a research assistant professor at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, posits that these rural clusters could be the result of residents who flee big cities for “short term rentals, seasonal rentals, [and] family properties” and then expose rural communities. And advocates argue that moratoria on loan payments for the US Department of Agriculture’s Section 515 and 502 programs—two programs that serve vulnerable tenants and low- to moderate-income mortgage borrowers, respectively—may not be long enough. Bob Rapoza, executive secretary for the National Rural Housing Coalition, says many of these borrowers never recovered from the Great Recession and will struggle even more now.

  • Los Angeles, San Francisco Explore Temporary Tent Cities to Facilitate Social Distancing

    As California works to lease 15,000 hotel rooms to address overcrowding in homeless shelters, major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are increasingly considering tents as a way to enable social distancing and sheltering in place. In Los Angeles, the US Department of Veteran Affairs set up a temporary tent city for 25 veterans that will also include medical care, food services, and sanitation. Some local officials, such as City Councilmember Mike Bonin are calling for the city to follow the lead of Tampa, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada, and open more tent cities to protect and monitor Los Angelenos experiencing homelessness. The Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco provided 600 tents for residents but expects more have been distributed by community members, small businesses, and shelters that have reached capacity. “Tents are actually part of the Center for Disease Control recommendations and the recommendations of the Trump administration,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, adding, “[Tents are] a good solution for the interim, but no way is it humanitarian to have people living forever in encampments.”

  • HUD Provides Flexible Funding to Address Public Housing Authorities’ Financial Strain

    On Monday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it would grant public housing authorities, Native American tribes, and tribally designated housing authorities waiver authority, allowing them to conduct operations remotely, and that HUD would postpone its routine housing inspections to minimize resident exposure to COVID-19. “Flexible solutions such as these waivers… will help housing authorities and tribes meet the unique needs of their residents,” said Secretary Ben Carson. Officials say that in New York, decades of underinvestment for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) mean that the $137 million the authority received from the latest federal appropriations bill will only be enough to cover short-term costs, raising concerns around long-term sustainability. Half of NYCHA’s annual operating costs is covered by $1 billion in rent paid by tenants who use federal vouchers. Rising unemployment stands to limit tenant’s ability to pay rent even after subsidies, and if “folks are out of work and stay out of work, [the NYCHA] will need more voucher money and more operating subsidy,” said Chair Gregory Russ.

  • Social Distancing Impossible for Many Low-Income or Homeless Americans

    For many low-income, homeless, or housing-insecure Americans, the rule of maintaining six feet of distance from others during the COVID-19 pandemic is not feasible, further exposing how private, controllable living space is a privilege. “Living in crowded conditions not only increases the risk of infection but can impose serious emotional and mental health costs” says Stefanie DeLuca, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University. For homeless and housing-insecure families, doubled-up housing and close quarters may exacerbate existing conflicts and vulnerabilities faced by children. As organizations work to provide shelter for people experiencing homelessness, increasingly through hotel and motel space, experts such as Amber Harding, staff attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, say they hope current efforts will change future approaches to sheltering unhoused people.