As eviction moratoriums let up at the start of the new year, more families are likely to experience homelessness.
People without stable housing are at higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus. And with the onset of cold weather, providers expect a spike in demand for shelter, food and outreach services.
Marybeth Shinn, a professor at Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University, said while moratoriums imposed during the pandemic work to delay evictions, they do not prevent them.
She noted arrears for rent, utilities and fees continue to accumulate when the moratorium ends, and landlords can continue to charge fees for late payments.
“And utility bills keep ticking, and fees are accumulating for families,” Shinn said. “So there are going to be a lot of families who are at risk of foreclosure.” Shinn added housing affordability is at the heart of the problem.
Across Tennessee, there is a shortage of rental homes that are affordable, especially for households whose incomes are at or below the poverty line.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50% of their annual incomes for housing. And a family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S.
Shinn contended there are steps the federal government and incoming administration could take, including reinstating increased unemployment benefits to help people stay current on rent.
“The closest thing that we have to a silver bullet to end homelessness would really be an expansion of the housing choice voucher program,” Shinn proposed. “It’s expanded only from two million to 2.2 million units over the past 20 years. A bipartisan policy commission suggested that the program could expand to the point that everybody who needed it used it.”
She said research has shown for around 31 billion dollars annually, the U.S. could end homelessness.
Shin believes that’s an amount the nation can afford. She said unfortunately there are few resources for individuals that do need help, but some people may be able to get assistance through local nonprofit organizations.
“To access that in communities is to call 211. That will hook you into the organizations that might have resources there,” Shinn concluded.
As of January 2019, more than 7,000 Tennesseans experienced homelessness on any given day, according to federal data. Even more families lack stable housing and are staying in motels or with friends or family.
Public school data showed in 2018, around 17,000 students reported being unsheltered, living in a hotel or motel, or doubled up.