This article was originally published in Multifamily & Affordable Housing Business. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
There is little doubt our country was facing a serious housing affordability crisis even before the pandemic hit, and the situation has grown even more dire over the past 21 months.
More than 2.1 million families are behind on at least three months of mortgage payments and 8 million are behind on rent, according to a March report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. According to another report from the Aspen Institute, more than 15 million renters collectively owe as much as $20 billion to their landlords. For some of these families, a disproportionate number of which are non-white, the threat of foreclosure or eviction is all too real, creating even more uncertainty than ever over their future.
COVID-19 exacerbated inequities and shined a white-hot spotlight on both long- and short-term contributors to the affordable housing problems across the country, like stagnant wages and low housing stocks. But one of the most overlooked and pressing issues is the fact that community-based affordable housing organizations are facing caseloads exponentially greater than ever before, which puts a truly equitable COVID recovery at risk.
Over the past 21 months, the pandemic exacerbated the challenges facing families, like increased rates of unemployment, school closings, and general uncertainty about individual health and the future. These changes have led to an increased demand for the critical resident services affordable housing organizations provide, like eviction prevention, workforce development, housing and financial counseling, childcare and housing search assistance. Moreover, the same staff members providing these services have been called to support other community needs such as helping residents register for COVID tests and vaccinations, file unemployment claims and submit tax returns.
The growing volume and complexity of the needs of individuals and families living in affordable housing across the country has strained the ability of affordable housing organizations to simply keep pace in delivering these resources and services. The demand for assistance will likely only continue to grow as eviction moratoriums and other pandemic-relief programs expire.
We are in a precarious state and the current path is unsustainable. If community-based affordable housing organizations can’t keep up with the demand for housing and residential services, individuals and families, particularly those in communities of color, will be forced out of their homes and struggle to find an affordable place to live. Affordable housing organizations employ capable, qualified people with the contacts and knowledge to navigate finding the housing and services to meet an individual's need. If they are struggling to keep up with the demand to connect those in need to services, imagine how difficult it must be for individuals and families to try to go it on their own.
Catastrophic events, like the current pandemic and previous economic downturns, do not impact all communities equally. Just take a look at the Great Recession during which Black and Hispanic borrowers, many of whom are still recovering, were 76 percent and 71 percent more likely to have lost their homes to foreclosure than white borrowers, according to a report from the Center for Responsible Lending. A similar trend has already played out during the COVID pandemic.
Black and Hispanic Americans have experienced higher rates of housing hardship than white Americans over the course of the pandemic, according to Brookings. A follow-up report by the Social Policy Institute found "the disproportionate experiences of housing hardship have lessened, but only because everyone became worse off." A safe, affordable place to call home is critical to providing stability in an uncertain world and affordable housing is the key to ensuring a more equitable COVID recovery.
The issue of housing affordability is a complex problem and there is no silver bullet solution; but a growing number of well-respected organizations are joining us in raising the flag about the sheer number of people who need these resident support services and how critical they are to equitable COVID recovery. Both the Stewards of Affordable Housing of the Future and the Kresge Foundation consider resident services to be a defining contributor of equity between residents and providers, while researchers at Virginia Tech and Case Western Reserve University surfaced the need for these services during the pandemic.
Community-based affordable housing organizations are on the front lines of the affordability crisis, working alongside families and individuals as we recover from the pandemic. The fact that they are called upon to fill so many needs is a testament to their role as people in positions of trust in the community. If we are going to ensure an equitable COVID recovery, philanthropic organizations need to work closely with these organizations to understand and identify the greatest need, and then commit dollars and other resources to addressing them.
That is why the TD Charitable Foundation is focusing its 2021 Housing for Everyone grant competition on organizations supporting and building capacity for critical resident services. We relied on the community partnerships we have built over the past 15 years to help identify the greatest need. Through research and our own focus groups, we continuously heard from our community-based partner organizations that the greatest barrier to long-term, equitable COVID recovery is a need for increased capacity to provide the much-needed resident services.
TD is committed to driving resources to organizations and programs that help people feel more confident about their future, so for the 2021 Housing for Everyone competition, we've aligned our funding to the need that will, hopefully, create the greatest impact in our communities by helping to shore up the capacity within affordable housing organizations so they can increase the much-needed services they're providing to residents in the communities where all of us work. I call upon others to join us.
There is already so much stress, fatigue and pain facing our neighbors, particularly our most vulnerable, as we recover from the pandemic. By partnering with those on the ground in communities to understand the need, and then making smart investments to help those organizations meet that need, we have an opportunity to make sure that we build back better and more equitably – and we can't afford to get it wrong.