On March 18, a new Building Bridges blog series was launched to share solutions from other communities and highlight key interventions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week’s blog post focused on eviction prevention. In addition to addressing the pre-existing issues of housing instability and homelessness, organizations are also adapting daily to the challenge of protecting the health of clients and staff. These changes are critical to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus and ensure that residents have safe, stable shelter or housing for as long as possible.
As of March 31, there have been at least 2 deaths reported among people experiencing homelessness nationwide. According to one new report released last week, over 21,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States are predicted to need hospitalization, with as many as 3,400 likely to die as a result of COVID-19. In addition, the report estimates that an additional 400,000 beds will be needed across the country to adequately shelter and quarantine individuals experiencing homelessness. According to the report, the 12-month price tag to provide shelter and quarantine beds in alignment with new CDC guidelines is estimated at $11 billion.
This new Building Bridges series looks at community responses to COVID-19 using a prospicient lens: What short-term, community responses can become long-term, systemic solutions? Which immediate interventions can effectively and efficiently address the structural issues that lead to housing instability and homelessness? What “new thing” can evolve into “business as usual?” And what is needed to create healthy, stable communities permanently?
This week’s blog post is dedicated to the issue of flexibility and sustainability of funding that addresses housing instability and homelessness in response to COVID-19.
CURRENT STATUS OF COVID-19 HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS RELATED FUNDING
Signed on March 27, the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocates over $12 billion for housing and homelessness related assistance. Of the total, there is $4 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) and $5 billion for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). The housing provisions include flexibility in the form of waivers so that communities can apply the dollars where they are most needed. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) provides an analysis of the housing provisions. Below is a high-level overview for some of the categories of assistance related to housing and homelessness.
Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG)
A total of $4 billion was allocated to the ESG program, targeting both households experiencing homelessness and those at-risk. Communities can use the ESG funding for eviction prevention assistance as well as rapid rehousing. The first $2 billion is to be deployed according to the traditional ESG formula; the remaining $2 billion will be distributed based on a new formula developed by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), incorporating community needs in response to COVID-19. Local organizations in Charlotte-Mecklenburg recently received over $50,000 in ESG funds administered through North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to support shelter operations and rapid re-housing.
In addition to the influx of new funding, HUD provided guidance to Continuums of Care (CoCs) on how to allocate federal grant dollars to respond to COVID-19. HUD also provided guidance to existing ESG recipients on how to repurpose existing emergency shelter and street outreach funding to respond to COVID-19, to encompass things like supplies; cots; room dividers; transportation; and the hiring of additional staff.
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
A total of $5 billion was allocated to the CDBG program. In addition, broad authority was given to allow funding to be used for purposes such as providing emergency rental assistance and covering shelter operations. The initial $2 billion will go to existing CDBG grantees within 30 days. Local and state governments have significant flexibility to determine how to use the money. Unlike previous CDBG dollars, this new funding will have no cap on the amount used for public services; more importantly, the CARES bill also eliminates the public services cap from the most recent two rounds of traditional CDBG funding.
Coronavirus Relief Fund
The CARES Act includes a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for states and local governments to mitigate the budgetary impacts of COVID-19. Communities with a population of more than 500,000 people can also seek to receive a proportionate amount of the state’s funding. According to analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), North Carolina will receive approximately $4 billion. Funding from the Coronavirus Relief Fund can be directly employed to address housing instability and homelessness.
Other Funding Sources
Some communities, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg, have also set up special funds to support households experiencing a crisis as a result of COVID-19. Other examples include the statewide Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund; Boston COVID-19 Response Fund; New York City COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund; COVID-19 Los Angeles Response Fund; Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund; and Omaha COVID-19 Response Fund. Initial funding priorities center around supporting the populations at highest risk for emerging health, economic, and social impacts as a result of COVID 19; complementing public funding and response efforts; and responding to other community crisis response needs.
LONG-TERM VIEW ON HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS RELATED FUNDING
This near-term infusion of public and private dollars is critical to support all of the households currently experiencing homelessness and housing instability, as well as households at risk of losing their housing over the next year as a result of COVID-19. Crisis response funding is needed immediately to provide both congregate shelter and non-congregate shelter (such as hotels) in alignment with CDC guidelines to protect people experiencing homelessness and others in community from further spread of the virus. Crisis response funding is also needed now to help households teetering on the edge of losing their housing to stay safely in their homes for as long as possible.
However, additional funding will also be needed for months and, quite possibly, years from now to address the long-term economic consequences from COVID-19. Like any economic crisis, COVID-19 has and will continue to disproportionately impact low-income households.
Therefore, as communities are grappling with how to care for households in crisis today, they must also look down the road to anticipate and plan to meet low-income household needs three-, six-, and twelve-months from now.
Communities need to ask themselves questions, such as: What is the long-term cost of addressing the problem of housing instability and homelessness in a COVID-19 world? How many more households will become homeless as a result of COVID-19? How can communities offset additional costs by activating resources not otherwise used due to the pandemic? How can communities put individuals back to work while also supporting existing efforts to prevent and end homelessness? What investments today can produce the broadest possible positive economic results in the future?
The problems of housing instability and homelessness predate crisis responses to COVID-19; and are only likely to worsen as a result of COVID-19. The eradication of homelessness and housing instability was arduous work even in a booming economic cycle, without the added system stressor of a global pandemic. Therefore, it is vital that short-term solutions, including how funding is allocated, incorporate measures that allow communities to address the housing challenges that existed before, and will remain after, COVID-19.
How then can communities leverage existing resources and ensure new funding goes as far as possible? What new ways can funding be paired or deployed to address structural issues? What new funding mechanisms can transition into long-term change catalysts? How can new and existing public and private funding align to maximize impact and drive systemic solutions?
As one example, new public funding from the CARES Act can be used to address housing instability and homelessness. Communities can develop systemic priorities related to COVID-19 that also attend to existing disparities. In addition, communities can apply for new public dollars to support existing efforts, thereby expanding current dollars or redeploying resources upstream. A handful of states are requesting FEMA dollars to cover housing and homelessness related costs like non-congregate shelter. Local and state governments in which the state (like North Carolina) has a Major Disaster Declaration can apply for FEMA assistance to cover these costs.
Future posts in this series will continue to focus on this important shift from short-term intervention to long-term implementation. Check back here each week to find out more.
Courtney LaCaria coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.