News Roundup

  • Lack of Infrastructure, Housing Contribute to COVID-19 Spike in Navajo Nation

    This week, the Navajo Nation’s rate of COVID-19 infection and mortality became the highest per capita in the United States, surpassing all 50 states. Experts say Indigenous populations are especially vulnerable in large part because of long-standing systemic health inequities, resulting in high rates of diabetes and heart disease. Also contributing to these numbers is the difficulty of maintaining essential hygiene practices on the reservation, as an estimated 40 percent of homes in Navajo Nation do not have running water, and the fact that many Navajo Nation are multigenerational and densely occupied, making it difficult to contain interhousehold viral spread. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez remarked, “When someone gets sick, it is hard for them to self-quarantine or isolate because of the shortage of housing here on the Navajo Nation. Those are federal obligations to provide infrastructure, including water.”

  • Four in Five Market-Rate Apartment Tenants Paid May Rent, but That Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

    The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) reports that 80.2 percent of market-rate apartment renters either partly or fully paid their monthly rent by May 6. Importantly, the NMHC only tracks data for the United States’ 11.5 million market-rate apartments and does not include tens of millions of renters who live in subsidized rentals or single-family homes. Doug Bibby, president of the NMHC, suggests this surprisingly high rate of rent payment (especially given the current 14.7 percent unemployment rate) is largely because “renters and owners are working together with payment plans, allowing credit card payments and other flexible options.” Bibby adds that though four out of five renters made rent in May, his organization advocates for “direct assistance to renters in the next coronavirus aid package” because renters can only rely for so long on unemployment insurance, savings accounts, and credit cards.

  • Lack of Air Conditioning Poses Another Pandemic-Related Health Risk in South Florida

    For South Floridians without air conditioning, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and business closures exacerbate an existing health risk. Last month, South Florida was 6 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than usual, and though not yet summer, residents are already suffering the effects of higher utility bills, increased heat exposure, mold growth, and related respiratory issues that can stem from lack of air conditioning in humid environments. Even for tenants with air conditioning units in their homes, economic stress during the pandemic leaves many tenants unable to afford seasonal utility increases, and therefore unable to use air conditioning. Florida Power & Light, which serves Miami-Dade, suspended disconnections through May 31 and is offering payment plans for customers experiencing COVID-19-related hardships. The problem is especially worrisome in Miami-Dade public housing, which has a long history of not providing AC—disproportionately affecting Black residents. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development, who supports Miami-Dade public housing, does not provide funding for air conditioning and does not require cooling units in supported housing.  

  • In Texas, Overwhelming Demand on City-Level Rental Assistance Drives Push for Further Federal Action

    As federal rental-assistance programs, such as the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act, gain popularity in Congress and among the general public, cities are currently on their own to distribute the limited funds granted by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act via local rental assistance programs. In Texas, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin announced rental assistance programs, all of which report an overwhelming number of applicants in their first week. Dallas’s city application portal received 16,000 applications in one day, crashing the server. In Austin, the city has chosen to handle the massive demand, which surpasses available resources, by awarding the money through a lottery system. The Texas Tenants’ Union, along with 40 other housing and community organizations across the state, signed a letter to the Texas congressional delegation urging support of the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s proposed $100 billion federal rental assistance fund, along with a national eviction moratorium. “Congress must step in now… to prevent mass displacement, and chaos in rental markets and city budgets,” said the signees.