Client In the News:

The COVID-19 impact on neighbors without affordable housing

By Marc Craig, Special to MediaNews Group, June 9, 2020

As the world grapples with the health challenges and threats currently being faced by the COVID-19 virus, imagine dealing with this without a home? Imagine having to ‘stay in place’ or ‘wash your hands’ without place to stay or sink to call your own.

Though unimaginable for many, that is exactly what many individuals and families in our community are faced with right now. Unfortunately, as this crisis progresses, many more will likely face housing threats unless Federal and state officials take decisive action. The world is in a crisis unlike anything we have seen in our lifetime. This crisis must call for bold, unprecedented, swift action in our country.

As we read the proposed state and federal plans for increased testing, medical protocols, economic relief for small business and stimulus checks for Americans, we are compelled to make the case for our neighbors who were in crisis mode long before this virus became a threat. In Oakland County, homelessness has been rising and affordable, housing is in scarce supply

Community Housing Network’s mission is to strengthen communities by connecting people to housing resources. We are seeing first-hand the effects of this crisis. But, more importantly, we have seen the impacts of not having enough affordable housing for our residents. The impact of this crisis has already, and will continue to move out across each community, crippling those among already vulnerable populations.

CHN provides housing and housing resources for people who are homeless or facing homelessness, people with disabilities, people with low income, and other vulnerable residents of the community. We are at the forefront of the homeless response system, operating a Housing Resource Center for the county that is the first point of contact for anyone experiencing a housing crisis. Current facts regarding the housing and homelessness situation in Oakland county:

  • Throughout the course of calendar year 2019, the Housing Resource Center handled 20,680 calls, each one representing a person in crisis.
  • In Oakland county, there has been a 14% increase in homelessness from 2015-2018.
  • During 2015-18 there was a 38% increase in the number of seniors experiencing homelessness (456 in 2018) in Oakland county, a third for the first time and 8 in 10 reported having a disability. This is consistent with national data and a high-risk population for COVID-19.
  • Previously identified lack of shelter space in Oakland county is further strained by this crisis.
  • Lack of affordable housing units and the prioritization of those most in need results in only those that are experiencing homelessness with a disability to qualify for the available units, with many of those that are prioritized being chronically homeless long term.

Additional stimulus funding would be a lifeline in managing this crisis, preventing people from losing housing and assisting those without housing to find it, is at the top of the list.

While a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions is a much needed step at this time, we know that there will be a need for funding to pay rent for months or years going forward for those currently experiencing homelessness, those that were formerly homeless and assisted into housing with short term rental subsidies that are expiring.

Others that have not yet been homeless but are living paycheck to paycheck will be at great risk of losing their housing in the near term with people off work and incomes dropping.

While CHN receives a variety of local, state and federal funding to alleviate homelessness and assist with housing, much of it is strictly mandated to serve particular segments of the vulnerable population. CHN’s critical needs fund (general operating funding raised by the agency) allows flexibility to use funding as needed to address the most critical housing needs, quickly and without federal restricted guidelines. This fund has been virtually tapped out, slated fundraising events have been postponed and other funding opportunities have not been the priority at this time under the circumstances, leaving the organization with reduced flexible funding to rapidly respond to the crisis and changing housing landscape.

Federal and state emergency funding is essential for organizations on the frontlines of the housing deficit as the economic ability to sustain housing grows harder daily due to this crisis. to continue to be at the forefront of handling this impending housing tsunami. The time is now, elected leaders must think strategically about the next months and years, and not leave our most vulnerable neighbors behind.

CHN works on a collaborative basis with many sectors and partners to decrease homelessness and expects that collaboration to be even more important as we go forward in managing resources throughout this crisis.

Marc Craig is CEO of Community Housing Network, a nonprofit organization committed to providing homes for people in need through proven strategies of homeless prevention, housing assistance and development, community education and referral, advocacy and additional services. For more information, visit www.communityhousingnetwork.org.