Housing in Brief: Renters Struggle with Housing, Food, and Healthcare Costs

 And a mixed-income housing project moves forward in Miami, and advocates hope to protect eviction-prevention work in Philadelphia. 

(Image by soumen82hazra from Pixabay )

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Renters Struggle with Bills, But Most Paid Rent

Almost half of renters in the United States reported experiencing a “material hardship” in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning they were struggling to pay for rent, food, utilities, or medical care, according to new research from the Urban Institute. Around 14 percent of renters either paid rent late or did not pay the full amount due in April, according to a survey conducted by the group, and more than 30 percent struggled to pay for food. A fifth of renters reported having an “unmet need for medical care in the family because of costs.” Homeowners reported substantially lower rates of hardship, and the survey showed differences along racial lines too.

“People of color are facing greater difficulties paying rent and other bills, likely because of the disproportionate job loss in their communities,” wrote Mary Cunningham, the vice president for metropolitan housing and communities policy at the Urban Institute, in a blog post. “Hispanic and black renters were more than twice as likely as white renters to report being unable to pay their full rent or paying late in the past 30 days (20 percent and 21 percent versus 8 percent). These effects will only further entrench racial disparities if people are left without help.”

In addition, around 40 percent of renters said they were worried about having enough food to eat or being able to pay for utilities, housing, and debts in April and May, according to the report, with slightly lower rates among homeowners. In response, Cunningham wrote, the federal government should enact emergency rental assistance like the $100 billion bill recently introduced in Congress.

Affordable-Housing Project Moves Forward in Miami

Developers are moving forward with a plan to build a roughly 1,000-unit, mixed-income housing complex in the Miami neighborhood of Overtown, amid intensifying demand for affordable housing, the Miami Herald reports. The project will replace two public-housing buildings that currently exist on the site. The eventual development will replace all 136 public-housing units with new public-housing units, plus additional affordable and market-rate housing. The developer, Housing Trust Group, is planning to present three potential scenarios to the community with different amounts of housing and retail, according to the report.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were in an affordable housing crisis,” Matthew Rieger, chief executive officer and president of Housing Trust Group, told the paper. “Miami was ground zero. Some of the people that wanted and needed affordable housing did not qualify prior to the pandemic. Now they do because of the sharp unemployment spike. Demand for units just went up exponentially.”

Miami-Dade County Commissioners approved a ground lease for the project last month, according to the report. Advocates have been encouraging city and county officials to use publicly owned land to spur more affordable housing development, and last year, the University of Miami Office of Civic and Community Engagement created a tool to help identify available properties, as Next City reported. The developer is planning to seek financing in the fall and begin construction late next year.

Proposed Cuts to Eviction-Prevention Programs Worry Philadelphia Advocates

The Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, which grew out of a task force on eviction appointed by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in 2017, has gotten high marks from housing advocates for programs meant to help tenants understand their rights and avoid being pushed out of their homes. But as the coronavirus pandemic pushes municipal budgets to the breaking point, advocates are worried that some progress could be lost at a time when tenants are already struggling more than usual. In an op-ed for WHYY’s PlanPhilly, three Philadelphia-area attorneys say that a budget proposal that includes reduced funding for the Eviction Prevention Project could have dangerous consequences. When courts reopen, evictions may begin again immediately, the authors write, possibly without any additional notice to tenants.

“Unless our systems are prepared, once the courts reopen, thousands of Philadelphians will lose their homes due to eviction and many may become homeless,” they write. “This is a dire public health issue. If we see a huge wave of evictions this summer, it will increase homelessness, overwhelm the shelter system, and force people to live in overcrowded dwellings with family and friends, potentially spreading infection and causing a resurgence in infections and a likely second shutdown.”

City and state governments are considering drastic cuts of all types as they face huge budget shortfalls and shrinking revenues long-term. But the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, a collaboration between six different agencies and advocacy groups, has been “enormously successful in using best practices to prevent homelessness and eviction,” the authors write. The new budget proposal includes $500,000 for the project, down from $2.1 million in the previous fiscal year, according to the article.

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: affordable housingphiladelphiacovid-19miamievictionsrent

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