Long-neglected affordable housing gets federal boost

FILE - Supporters of the homeless community, as well as homeless people themselves, stand with signs in reaction to an Idaho Liberty Dogs counter-protest Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022, outside the old building of the Ada County Courthouse in downtown Boise, Idaho.  Housing advocates believe money from the $350 billion in state and local coronavirus fiscal stimulus funds could transform how communities tackle the growing problem of homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing.  (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman via AP, file)

FILE – Supporters of the homeless community, as well as homeless people themselves, stand with signs in reaction to an Idaho Liberty Dogs counter-protest Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022, outside the old building of the Ada County Courthouse in downtown Boise, Idaho. Housing advocates believe money from the $350 billion in state and local coronavirus fiscal stimulus funds could transform how communities tackle the growing problem of homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing. (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman via AP, file)

PA

After her home was flooded five times in the past year, Tilicia Owens was nervous with each impending storm and ready to leave her Detroit neighborhood.

But then the 40-year-old quality engineer learned that the city had a program that could prevent heavy rains from flooding his basement and damaging his furniture, pictures and exercise equipment. The city is tapping $2.5 million in federal stimulus funds as part of a $15 million effort to provide pumps and other equipment to help prevent flooding in 11 neighborhoods.

“It would mean the world to me,” said Owens, who applied to the city’s basement protection program, which would provide homeowners with a floodwater pump or valve outside the home. to prevent water from entering.

“I’ve invested so much in my home,” she added. “I want to protect that and I want to protect my investment. It would take away all my anxiety.”

Detroit turned to the $350 billion Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to partially fund the project. Part of the $1.9 trillion US bailout approved last year, the money is intended to help communities recover from the pandemic and can be used for everything from job creation to childcare and housing.

More than 60 states, counties and cities, including Detroit, are tapping into funds for housing programs.

With President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill floundering and federal emergency housing assistance drying up in some places, the funds have become a critical source of cash to address a housing shortage. affordable and a growing homelessness crisis. Putting Housing First is also a reminder that the long-standing shortage of affordable housing, especially in communities of color, has worsened during the pandemic, at a time when a looming eviction crisis and rising housing prices threatened millions of families.

“There was already a growing awareness before the pandemic in states and cities across the country that the affordable housing problems that still existed were reaching unprecedented levels and simply needed to be addressed,” said Stockton Williams, executive director of the National Council of State. Housing agencies. “The pandemic has shown a brighter light on this, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable renters and landlords.”

For many communities, the amount of money available in state and local fiscal stimulus funds is also historic and more than many have spent on housing in a year or even a decade.

“This is definitely transformational funding,” Jacqueline Edwards, director of the Maricopa County Department of Social Services in Arizona, said of the nearly $85 million he has to spend on everything from new housing to extra shelter beds to helping homeowners fix their air conditioning and stay home when temperatures warm up. Typically, the county has a few million dollars to spend on these services each year.

“We will be able to make meaningful changes that not only impact today, but impact lives for years to come,” she added.

But supporters say it’s still just the beginning, and that significant federal investment — largely in the Build Back Better bill, passed by the House but currently stalled in the Senate — is needed to fix the problem. .

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1 in 4 families eligible for federal housing assistance received it before the pandemic. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that $86 billion a year will be needed over the next decade for universal housing vouchers and housing funds. An additional $70 billion is needed for social housing repairs.

So far, more than $11 billion from state and local fiscal stimulus funds have been committed to housing-related programs, according to the Center, which tracks spending.

States in the West, Midwest and East have already made significant commitments, according to a February report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Southern states, long known for having some of the weakest tenant protections, have engaged very little.

Among the main areas of investment is the promise to build more affordable housing.

Massachusetts has allocated nearly $600 million for affordable housing, including $150 million for new housing and $150 million to maintain public housing. Colorado lawmakers have proposed spending $400 million and Washington, DC, has set aside $323 million, including $17 million for community groups to provide housing for victims of domestic violence. Clark County, Nevada, home to Las Vegas, whose tourism economy has been hammered by the pandemic, plans to spend more than a third of its funds, or $157 million, on housing.

Other states, led by Washington, Oregon and New Jersey, are working to strengthen their eviction protections, which the US Treasury Department has encouraged.

Washington is spending $403 million to bolster its emergency rental assistance program and $174 million for landlord assistance. New York City plans to spend nearly $329 million to increase access to housing assistance vouchers. New Jersey is spending $750 million in rental and utility assistance and creating a statewide eviction prevention program.

“A lot of people who never thought they would be in unstable housing… are in this situation. And so it’s scary and people don’t quite know where to turn,” Janel said. Winter, director of the New Jersey Division of Housing and Community Resources.

“It provides them with that help. … So everyone who is before this tribunal understands their rights, understands their responsibilities, is able to take advantage of all the protections that are there for them.

Several communities use the funds to help the homeless.

North Carolina has set aside $15 million to quickly rehouse people at risk of homelessness due to the pandemic. Clark County, Washington is spending $4.4 million to fund homeless outreach teams, while Burlington, Vermont plans to use $1.4 million for 30 shelters for people to sleep and store their belongings.

Austin, Texas, which has hundreds of homeless encampments and more than 2,500 people sleeping rough most nights, spends more than $106 million on homelessness. That’s on top of the $110 million Travis County, home of Austin, is spending on the problem.

The funds will help move homeless people into temporary housing and eventually into permanent units that offer services such as counseling and rental assistance. There is also funding for 1,300 new homes for the homeless, and the city has acquired several hotels with the money.

“We’re focused on building a system that doesn’t just move people off the streets into shelters, but focuses on solving their housing crisis,” said Dianna Gray, chief strategy officer. of the city’s homeless.

Several cities are using the funds to save homes battered by years of neglect and to ensure that poor families can stay housed. Milwaukee wants to spend $15 million to rehabilitate up to 150 foreclosed city-owned homes.

Detroit has set aside more than $83 million for housing-related expenses, including $27.5 million to repair 1,000 roofs, tripling the amount it spends on its low-income home repair program. It is also spending $14.2 million to renovate vacant units and $6.4 million to set up an online system for residents to find and apply for low-income housing.

Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett said the spending priorities were aimed at preventing further declines in the city’s population, which has fallen dramatically since the 1950s.

“If we’re going to keep the population and attract new people to the city, it will be through the housing opportunities that we can provide,” he said, adding that the city also needs to help those who stayed in Detroit.

“We are going to do a favor for the people who stayed behind,” he said. “We’re not just going to tell people who have endured that you don’t belong. We want you to stay. We want you to succeed.”

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Associated Press writers Corey Williams in Detroit and Lisa Rathke in Marshfield, Vermont contributed to this report.

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