Pandemic Relief Programs Prevented Homelessness Despite Housing Burden

A new study highlights the important role of emergency relief funding and eviction bans in stemming the rise of homelessness even as more families became housing-insecure.

2 minute read

August 23, 2023, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Aerial view of three-story brick rowhouses in Kensington neighborhood of Phialdelphia, Pennsylvania

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Writing in Bloomberg CityLab, Kriston Capps outlines the concerns raised by a new analysis from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that shows how eviction moratoriums and other emergency assistance programs launched during the pandemic helped prevent many Americans from falling into homelessness.

Officials describe this as an under-heralded success story of the pandemic emergency response. It’s also a warning about a still-urgent threat: In the wake of emergency relief efforts, homelessness is rising once again.

The study reveals that the number of households spending over 50 percent of their income on housing—the “worst-case housing needs”—hit a record 8.5 million household in 2021, yet sheltered homelessness decreased by 17 percent between 2019 and 2021. This is due to the “massive intervention” consisting of $47 billion in federal rental assistance and eviction moratoriums that kept many families with precarious housing situations in their homes.

Some key takeaways: “Pandemic interventions demonstrated that it’s possible to combat the routine use of evictions as a rent collection tool by combining legal aid with financial support.” Additionally, “Rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing and other tools associated with the “housing first” model are the best options for dialing back homelessness, according to the analysis. And above all, homelessness is a housing problem, so building more rental housing at all levels of affordability is key to reducing the problems that lead to displacement.”

The study highlights an urgent warning: As pandemic relief programs end and housing instability remains a growing problem, “worst-case housing needs still represent an emergency.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2023 in Bloomberg CityLab

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