News Roundup

  • In NYC, COVID-19 Hits Public Housing and Low-Income Neighborhoods Hardest

    In New York City, low-income people are dying of COVID-19 at more than twice the rate of their more affluent neighbors. The death rate in in zip codes where at least 30 percent of the population lives in poverty is more than double that of neighborhoods where less than 10 percent of the population is impoverished. Additionally, New York City neighborhoods with public housing developments reported 30 percent more COVID-19 hospitalizations than surrounding areas. Diagnosis rates are also higher in these neighborhoods, though the gap in cases is smaller than the gap in death and hospitalization rates. “When you just think about the population in public housing, like every other low-income community, you have a lot of comorbid disease that’s already associated with COVID. But then low-income communities of color also have a lot of environmental exposures, and this is particularly true around [NYC Housing Authority] complexes,” said Beverly-Xaviera Watkins, an epidemiology professor at the New York University School of Global Public Health.  

  • Lag in Arizona Rent Relief Raises Concerns of Future Eviction Bubble

    The Arizona Department of Housing received more than 10,000 applications for their emergency COVID-19 rent relief program, but only 400 renters have received funding so far. The Department of Housing tasked 11 community action agencies with processing applications but said that understaffing, increased demand, and insufficient documentation from nearly 80 percent of applicants is causing fund distribution to lag. To date, the Department of Housing has allocated only 8 percent of the program’s funding, leaving more than $4.6 million unused. The Arizona Republic reports that if funds continue to be distributed at this rate, it could take nearly a year to allocate all of the dedicated funds. “If tenants don’t get the relief they need, we risk a huge bubble of evictions later this year,” said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president and CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association.

  • Advocates Call for Stricter Housing Standards for Seasonal Farmworkers during Pandemic

    As farms across the US prepare to hire thousands of seasonal migrant workers, farmworker advocates say the typical features of seasonal workers’ housing, including shared rooms and bunk beds, inhibit adequate distancing and will exacerbate workers’ health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Labor unions recommend that employers remove bunk beds, require temperature checks, provide fresh masks for each shift, and cover grocery delivery costs for workers. Some states, including Oregon and Washington, issued new emergency COVID-19 housing rules following labor union pressure and lawsuits, but the updated guidance still allows for as many as 15 workers to sleep in bunk beds in the same room as long as beds are six feet apart, which union organizers believe is insufficient. Organizers like Elizabeth Strater are concerned about enforcement. “[Washington] has no plans to re-inspect housing based on these new rules,” Strater said.  

  • Judge Orders LA to House Homeless as Capacity Concerns around State Program Mount

    Citing increased COVID-19 risk, a US district court judge ordered Los Angeles City and County to relocate an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people camping near freeway ramps and gave officials until May 22 to produce a plan for “humane” housing. Potential shelter options could include safe parking sites to camp and hotel and motel rooms leased through Project Roomkey, a state program that began in April to shelter unhoused people during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first month of the program, the Los Angles Homeless Services Authority filled most Project Roomkey rooms within two to three days of availability. But increasing capacity stress on service providers leaves many experts concerned that the county’s implementation of Project Roomkey could begin to mirror other areas in California where the program is underperforming. Of the 15,000 rooms leased by the state, less than half are now occupied, accounting for less than 5 percent of the state’s homeless population of 151,000. A Los Angeles Times analysis shows that a shortage of service providers available to prepare and maintain rooms is the main barrier to the program.