As we slip into the dog days of August, momentarily distracted from the pandemic by the outsized devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Isaias, many Connecticut families nervously worry and wait for the next impending disaster. People are worried about losing their home – a lot of people. Without a significant investment in housing assistance and homelessness prevention, we could risk a housing crisis for hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents.
The State of Connecticut has heard their concern and is helping, but the coming disaster could require a response an order of magnitude greater than existing efforts. Last month, the Lamont administration launched $10 million Temporary Rental Housing Assistance Program (TRHAP), funded through the federal CARES Act, to prevent eviction actions as the state and federal eviction moratoriums expire. After just a few weeks of operation, the $10 million fund will be exhausted before the neediest can be assisted.
Amid the pandemic, financial insecurity, housing instability, and serious health risks are testing our families in ways few of us have experienced. Stable housing is the foundation of healthy families. We must make stable housing a public health priority during this crisis. Enhanced federal unemployment benefits begun under the CARES Act have expired. In late August, Governor Lamont’s executive order creating a statewide eviction moratorium will expire.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. Census has conducted a weekly survey on how the ongoing crisis has affected jobs, finances, access to food, health, housing, and schooling. The results have been startling. Since March 13, 48.8 percent of Connecticut adults reported that someone in their household had a loss in employment income. Results from the week ending July 22, 2020 show that in Connecticut, 36 percent of renters fear they won’t be able to pay rent next month.
Stable housing is the foundation of healthy families.
The situation is even more worrying for Connecticut’s families of color. More than 42 percent of Black renters have little or no confidence they can make rent. For Latino renters, a shocking 59 percent of respondents don’t believe they can pay next month’s rent. Families of color and lower income households are disproportionately affected by this crisis, as they already are by unemployment, housing discrimination and risk of eviction. Resources, and outreach efforts, must be targeted to those most affected and communities of color.
Connecticut has an early warning system that too few policymakers look to for guidance. United Way of Connecticut runs 2-1-1, the venerable statewide information and referral service operating in Connecticut since 1976. It connects residents to essential health and human services. If you want to know what’s troubling Connecticut’s residents, ask the call specialists at 2-1-1. They handle three hundred thousand calls every year from people worried about their kids, making rent, finding health insurance. Even in good times, housing assistance is typically one of the top requests. In the last 90 days, requests to 2-1-1 for rent assistance have increased by 210 percent over the same period in 2019 – from 4,443 in 2019 to 13,747 this year.
Unfortunately, we are forced to wait for the federal government to act as they argue over the next pandemic aid bill, including whether to fund rent assistance or enhanced funding for homelessness services. In May, the United States House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act which would provide over $100 billion in rental assistance and provide another round of $1,200 payments to households. The Senate and Trump administration have not acted on the HEROES Act nor have they come to any agreement with how to move forward with the House.
In this environment it is left to the State of Connecticut to do the best in can with what we have. So, what are we to do? Immediately, we can expand the state’s Temporary Rental Housing Assistance Program (TRHAP) with an additional allocation of CARES Act funds. That won’t be enough. The Lamont administration is juggling an onslaught of public health and economic needs during the pandemic.
Ultimately, we need to convince the federal government to fund rent assistance. Connecticut’s congressional delegation supports the rent assistance provisions of the HEROES Act. As Congress and the Trump administration negotiate the next pandemic bill, reach out to our congressional delegation and let them know just how critical a fully funded federal rent assistance program is to Connecticut.
Sean Ghio is Policy Director of the Partnership for Strong Communities.