Housing in Brief: Housing Insecurity in a Pandemic

Officials are scrambling to pause evictions and house at-risk homeless people, while fears of a recession raise questions about the housing market.

Homes in San Francisco

(Photo by Ana / CC BY 2.0)

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Cities Consider Pausing Evictions as Coronavirus Spreads

City officials in San Jose are planning to ban evictions citywide for at least 30 days as the novel coronavirus spreads and a potential recession threatens residents who are already economically vulnerable in a community with few affordable housing options, The Mercury News reports. Tenants are still required to pay rent, and in order to qualify for the moratorium, they will need to “document that they cannot pay rent due to a substantial loss of income related to the virus,” according to the report. Documentation includes “pay stubs, time cards, proof of medical care or quarantine, notes from employers and letters from schools citing the virus as why they kept students at home, creating a need for childcare,” the report says. Despite those conditions, many landlords opposed the moratorium, according to the report.

“I am very mindful that this is going to be a source of pain for some property owners,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said, according to the story. “But I think it’s important for us to recognize that this pain is going to be broadly felt and we have to do everything in our power to try and soften the blow.”

Meanwhile, as Curbed reported, officials in San Francisco were considering a similar moratorium on COVID-19-related evictions. And the city’s largest private landlord adopted a self-imposed moratorium while the legislation is pending, according to San Francisco Weekly. Officials in Philadelphia were calling for possible moratoria on evictions and foreclosures as well. In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted that she had signed an executive order banning water shutoffs for at least 60 days. In Italy, officials took even stronger measures, suspending mortgage payments across the entire country.

Heightened Attention on Homelessness

In Seattle, near where the coronavirus was first detected in the United States, Mayor Jenny Durkan was planning to rapidly expand shelter space available to homeless people in the city, according to The Seattle Times. The plans included opening two tiny-house villages that were already in the works and another shelter at a former treatment center owned by the Low Income Housing Institute, the report said.

“Our neighbors experiencing homelessness are at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, and as a city, region, and country we must act with urgency to address the ongoing impacts of this public health crisis,” Durkan said, according to the report.

Homeless people are at greater risk of catching and dying from the coronavirus than other populations, The New York Times reported. Officials in New York were trying to communicate with shelters about the best practices for preventing the spread of the virus, while San Francisco officials had deployed a number of RVs to quarantine homeless people who had tested positive for the virus, according to The New York Post.

In a press release, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty said that the crisis should draw attention to the daily insecurity that homeless people face:

“Homelessness itself threatens the immune system: Sleep — if any — is cut short, nutrition is lacking, sanitation is scarce, and health and dental care are nonexistent or put off until too late for fear of medical bills that cannot be paid,” the group said. “Responses to the current crisis must be guided by public health experts, with the needs of people experiencing homelessness in mind. We must not allow narratives created with prejudice against people experiencing homelessness to construct unnecessary public fear and justify the increase of the criminalization of homelessness.”

How the Pandemic Could Affect the Housing Market

As the coronavirus and the government’s response to the crisis sparked fears of a recession, there are mixed messages about how the U.S. housing market will react to the news. A few weeks ago, when the virus still seemed relatively contained in the U.S., Market Watch reported that the housing market could actually benefit from fears about the disease because it would lower borrowing costs. And lately, homebuyers are applying for mortgages at record levels as interest rates have dropped, USA Today reported. But the likelihood of a recession could counteract the impact of lowered interest rates and slow home sales overall, harming the “Best U.S. Housing Market in a Decade,” according to a report in Bloomberg. Of course, it’s worth remembering that “best market” is a relative term that conveys a somewhat limited set of values. As Bloomberg reported, “The economic distress will slow home sales, and prices nationally will likely flatten, or fall slightly, after years of gains, according to housing experts.” Falling prices may be bad for homeowners who are looking to sell, but in a country where housing costs are increasingly out of reach, endlessly rising home prices are a problem of their own.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.

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Tags: covid-19homelessnessevictions

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