Without COVID-19 Relief Bills Passed, 28 Million Will Experience Homelessness
By: Samantha Foss
With rent being due, eviction freezes expiring, and COVID-19 on the rise in Texas, countless low-income renters are weeks away from homelessness. Communities across Texas lifted eviction freezes in places such as Harris County, which started eviction proceedings for over 2,000 households last month. With the federal moratorium expiring last Friday, July 24th, remaining safety nets have been removed, leaving renters unprotected and unable to pay rent.
Without government intervention, the coronavirus pandemic is predicted to result in some 28 million Americans being evicted. Millions of Black and Latinx people are at the highest risk of being evicted from their homes and facing homelessness. And the disproportional rate of impact is unfortunately not new. People of color are disproportionately low-income, rent-burdened, or currently experiencing homelessness as a result of systemic racism. Now with COVID-19, these inequities are amplified and Black and Brown homeowners and renters across Texas are weeks away from losing their homes.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Texas already was facing an affordable housing crisis. In Texas, there were only 29 affordable rental units available for every 100 of the lowest-income renter households. Working at the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour in Texas, a wage earner needed to work 2.3 full-time jobs or 91 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. They must work 112 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Nationally, over 10 million low-income renters paid at least half of their limited income on rent, leaving them one financial emergency away from not being able to pay bills. The reduction in wages or lost jobs that millions of low-wage workers in America are experiencing during the pandemic will be catastrophic unless Congress acts immediately to provide emergency rental assistance.
The CARES Act was an important first step but did not provide the resources needed to prevent low-income renters from losing their homes. Since March 14th, nearly 2.8 million Texans applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, but many are being locked out of the process. An estimated 8.9 to 13.9 million people nationally have been unable to use their UI, and only approximately half of all people who qualify for unemployment are receiving benefits. And for those who do receive UI, the benefits – which vary from state-to-state – are often insufficient to relieve the housing cost burdens of the lowest-income households.
Congress must act now to provide relief from the economic shock millions of Americans are currently facing. NLIHC estimates that $8 billion in emergency rental assistance is needed in Texas to keep families stably housed, $100 billion for the U.S., to ensure housing stability for the lowest income renters during and after the pandemic. While the U.S. House of Representatives passed critical housing and homelessness protections in both the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act and the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act. Senate Democrats have introduced multiple bills to provide housing stability during the pandemic and have taken to the Senate floor to urge the majority to move these bills forward. To date, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has not taken any meaningful action on these bills.
Without emergency rental assistance and continued eviction moratoriums, we will see almost double the number of people being pushed into homelessness as compared to the Great Recession. In Texas, the number of people experiencing homelessness will climb to nearly 40,000. The lives and livelihoods of Texans are at-risk. Growing numbers of Texans becoming housing unstable or falling into homelessness is costly for all Texans economically, not to mention the damage sustained to the cherished Texan spirit.
During this pandemic, we need for our leaders in Congress to ensure everyone is stably housed. This is not just an economic necessity but a moral and health imperative.
 Much of the language of this paragraph was taken from Diane Yentel’s, CEO of National Low Income Housing, recent op-ed