Entries by Courtney LaCaria

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What’s New? A Look Back at “Not-so-short Term” COVID-19 Interventions Part 1: Eviction Prevention

In response to COVID-19, and throughout the pandemic year, everyone has had to make changes. Routines. Work. School. Childcare. Travel. Time. Businesses have been forced to adapt just to stay afloat. Governments have modified policies and sought to fill in gaps to keep people safe and healthy. Change has been truly the only constant. Importantly, some changes have been good. When looking back, what changes, whether at the individual or organizational level, are worth keeping: How we think about how we spend our time and resources? How we think about and use our space at home and work? How our routines have improved work-life balance? How business practices have empowered employees to be more productive through increased flexibility and enhanced support? How we have increased investment in the lowest income households, who need it most? How we have shifted to non-congregate shelter environments? How COVID has reframed the concept of housing as healthcare? One year ago, the Building Bridges blog launched a series on short-term housing and homelessness interventions enacted in response to COVID-19 that could become long-term “business as usual” practices. One year later, this new blog series will reflect on each of the six potential short-term-to-long-term interventions; provide an update with examples from other communities; and share what this could ultimately mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

The American Rescue Plan: What’s in it for Housing?

On March 11, 2021, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act was signed into law. This legislation appropriates approximately $50B in housing-related assistance for lower-income households facing housing instability or currently experiencing homelessness. As rental and utility arrears continue to grow, the ARP offers much needed financial relief to struggling tenants and landlords. And, as communities observe increases in both calls for assistance and households falling into homelessness, the ARP provides ways to address the immediate needs of lower-income households. This support will also help the homeless and housing services system to stabilize. Finally, the funding priorities and eligible uses in the ARP provide insight into the types of strategies and solutions that will continue to be advanced; if maximized, these can outline pathways to long-term economic recovery. This week’s blog post provides a high-level overview of the housing-related assistance in the ARP, and what it can mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Closing the Gap: Why the Type of Solution Matters

For businesses, scalability matters. Scalability means that there is an ability to respond to growth in opportunity and increases in demand. Scalability enables businesses to be competitive, efficient, and meet the needs of customers, despite environmental changes. Scalability can be the difference between a business that remains small, or even fails; and which businesses take off, and sustain success. Scalability should not just be a metric reserved for private industry. Scalability directly applies to solving complex social problems, like housing instability and homelessness. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, there is a 23,060-unit gap for housing units which are affordable to extremely low-income households. That housing gap should be considered the floor, because it is growing. Such a gulf requires solutions that can effectively bridge this ever-changing problem. These solutions must be scalable. In response to COVID-19, communities have been willing to try new approaches to address housing instability and homelessness. Some of these approaches, such as constructing temporary “tiny houses” to address unsheltered homelessness, are stopgap measures which can help protect individual and public health. Once circumstances improve, interventions that keep households “temporarily housed” or housed in inadequate conditions should be removed and replaced with permanent housing solutions. Sometimes, approaches may have been intended as temporary, but could become permanent “business as usual” solutions, based on scalability. Rehabilitating vacant buildings, like hotels, with the potential for higher intensity use and transforming them to permanent housing is one scalable solution. Given the fact that there are limited resources (including real estate) to address a growing problem that both pre-dates the pandemic and has worsened because of it, it is essential that communities focus on and invest in housing solutions that are scalable. This week’s blog post examines four factors for communities to consider, with specific examples, when determining which scalable housing solutions to advance and/or prioritize, and what this could mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Prevention Assistance in Charlotte-Mecklenburg

Planning and investment efforts related to homelessness have, for well over a decade, primarily focused on the downstream components of the homeless services system.  These components seek to reduce homelessness by increasing access to and availability of, permanent housing (including subsidized and non-subsidized). This is true of communities across the United States, and of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, data in Charlotte-Mecklenburg indicated that almost 30,000 households face a formal eviction each year. More than 78,000 renter households experienced housing cost burden, which means they are spending more than 30% of their income on housing-related costs. These numbers have increased, and will likely worsen, as a result of the long-term economic fallout from the response to COVID-19. In reacting to the pandemic, communities have started to develop strategic housing and homelessness plans that integrate public health promotion with economic recovery. Homelessness prevention is the real key to both protecting the community and ensuring long-term housing stability. In fact, federal COVID-19 assistance has targeted prevention activities to ensure that households can stay safely in their homes during the pandemic. While prevention assistance may have been missing from prior community housing strategies and previous multi-year plans, it has now emerged as an incredibly critical component. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s focus on prevention assistance (as a system) started long before the COVID-19 pandemic. This focus has only sharpened since the pandemic began impacting households in our community. This week’s blog illustrates the genesis and evolution of a prevention assistance system in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and what this early work means for the community.

2021 Point-in-Time Count: EverybodyCountsCLT

Each year, during the final Wednesday of January, Charlotte-Mecklenburg conducts an annual Point-in-Time Count.  This is intended to capture the number of people experiencing “literal homelessness” in the community. “Literal homelessness” is defined as residing overnight in an emergency shelter, safe haven, transitional housing facility, or in an unsheltered location unfit for human habitation. The Point-in-Time (PIT) Count (and the complementary Housing Inventory Count, or HIC) is a mandated activity of all Continuums of Care (CoCs) as a condition of receiving federal homelessness assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). HUD aggregates PIT & HIC data from over 395 CoCs as part of an annual report that is submitted to the U.S. Congress to inform funding decisions. For the past three years, Charlotte-Mecklenburg has gone above and beyond the minimum HUD requirements, asking locally-generated survey questions to better inform decision-making here. The annual PIT Count, referred to here as “EverybodyCountsCLT,” has historically been supported by staff and hundreds of volunteers who go out, often in the middle of the night or in the early morning hours, to survey those individuals experiencing homelessness and to deliver donated winter weather supplies. As with many things during the past year, communities have had to make adjustments to conduct this year’s Point-in-Time Count due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help communities in their planning efforts, HUD provided guidance to, and options for, communities to submit modifications or receive waivers. This week’s blog post provides an update on the 2021 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Point-in-Time Count and what it means for the community; and ways that individuals can meaningfully support the work, even during a health crisis.

January 2021: Housing Update

It is (finally) 2021. The start of a new year, with the hope and promise of positive change. The time when we envision successful outcomes to the resolutions we just made. A time for new beginnings, a chance to start over. Yet the first days of January feel eerily like the last days of December. Has anything changed? Will anything truly change? If there are changes, how can we be sure that they are for the better, or the best? At the close of 2020, Congress passed another emergency COVID-19 relief package that provides some glimmers of hope. First, it extended the the federal eviction moratorium enacted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through January 31, 2021. Second, it included $25 billion in assistance for housing. Of that total, it is estimated that North Carolina will receive over $698 million. Third, it postponed the deadline for communities to spend the Coronavirus Relief funds provided in the initial CARES Act, from December 30, 2020 to December 31, 2021. With $70 billion owed by U.S. renters in combined back rent, utilities, and late fees as of January 2021, this measure helps communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg both stave off the incoming wave of evictions and support the local economy. This week’s blog post covers the key provisions in the COVID-19 relief package, and what it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  

ICYMI: In Case You Missed It – The Top Ten (Posts) of 2020

During 2020, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Dashboard published 52 blog posts covering an array of topics, including the Point-in-Time Count; new report releases (and what they mean for the community); and local data and trends information. Throughout the year, more than 12,000 individuals accessed the Dashboard; there were over 36,000 pageviews as a result. Two all-new series were developed in response to COVID-19, focusing on how communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg can effectively address housing instability and homelessness during (and after) the pandemic. One of these (which includes the most-viewed blog post for 2020) covered innovative stopgap efforts that can be transformed into long-term “business-as-usual” solutions. The second pandemic-oriented series took a deeper dive into the components necessary for communities to develop a successful housing, public health, and economic recovery framework to effectively respond to COVID-19. In case you missed any of it, this final 2020 blog post is dedicated to the top ten posts (as measured by discrete views) from the year. Below are summaries; links to the “top ten” posts; and a final “so, what” for Charlotte-Mecklenburg to consider as the calendar is turned.

Hindsight is 2020: How do you “really” make a difference?

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the winter solstice will take place at 5:02 a.m. on Monday, December 21, 2020. Also known as the “darkest day,” the winter solstice marks the shortest period of sunlight, and therefore the longest night of the year. Winter solstice rituals and celebrations have been taking place for over 12,000 years. With what some cultures believed to be the sun’s literal “rebirth,” the winter solstice provides both a time to take stock of what has transpired, and to look to a new beginning. As the days lengthen, and our community looks to emerge from the pandemic, new rays of hope start to shine. According to Moody’s Analytics, almost $70 billion is owed by U.S. renters in combined back rent, utilities, and late fees as of January 2021. Data from the latest U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey indicates that 29.6% (199,447) of adults living in households in North Carolina report that they are not current on their rent or mortgage payments; and eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either “very” or “somewhat” likely. On a single night in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, there are at least 3,165 individuals experiencing homelessness. Indeed, the light we are starting to see first serves to illuminate the desolate landscape that 2020 has been. In recognition of endings and the possibilities of new, positive directions, this week’s blog post is dedicated to a look ahead, with a focus on what’s happening at the system level to address housing instability and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This post will also address, in the spirit of this time of year, specific ways that individuals can make a difference in this vital work of ending and preventing homelessness in the community. Taken one step further, how might this new beginning also be the start of “real” change, at the individual and systemic levels?