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Housing as Health Care: Advocates Press for COVID Crisis Solutions

Experts say that pre-COVID 19, housing assistance was available to just one out of four American families that need it. (Wikimedia Commons)
Experts say that pre-COVID 19, housing assistance was available to just one out of four American families that need it. (Wikimedia Commons)
April 9, 2020

BOSTON -- Housing advocates say the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be contained until everyone has the ability to isolate -- and that means everyone must have an affordable place to live.

Experts on low-income housing are speaking out, emphasizing that housing is tied to health care.

Dr. Megan Sandel, an associate professor at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, says the stress of being homeless or close to it damages people's health and makes them more susceptible to the virus.

"These are pre-COVID era, and you know that millions more families are going to be behind on rent and suffer the same types of adverse outcomes that we associate with homelessness," she points out.

Advocates praise the CARES Act, which put billions of dollars toward homeless shelters and rental assistance, but they say more will be needed.

They note that pre-COVID, widespread poverty and a massive shortage of low-income housing means millions of Americans have no cushion to absorb the shock of losing their job during the public-health lockdown.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, praises states and cities that have passed moratoria on foreclosures and evictions, but she says Congress needs to enact a national policy so millions who've lost their jobs and can't pay rent aren't thrown out on the street.

"We are pushing for there to be a national uniform policy that assures everybody in the country that we won't lose our homes in the midst of a pandemic," she stresses.

Douglas Bibby, president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, says his organization is encouraging landlords to be flexible with tenants. But he adds that apartment building owners need assistance, so they can keep the lights on.

"If the apartment owners cannot get forbearance, then literally a lot of them are going to go out of business," he states.

Congress is now working on a fourth COVID response bill.

Housing advocates are pressing for another $100 billion for rental assistance and for a ban on law enforcement sweeps of homeless encampments.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MA