By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association
Throughout North Carolina, with the onset of COVID-19, high unemployment and a reduction in income for many families, there are an increasing number of families with children at risk for homelessness. Governor Roy Cooper, through an executive order, and NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, through an emergency directive, prevented evictions for a temporary period, but that period is now over. And, yet, the conditions that lead to homelessness have increased, not declined.
U.S. Census Bureau surveyed households — April to now.
In April, the U.S. Census Bureau implemented a new Household Pulse survey, which is disseminated weekly to households in every state. The survey is designed to obtain real-time data about the impact of COVID-19 on households. Currently, the Household Pulse survey shows results for Week 10 – July 2-7. For North Carolina, the results are alarming, particularly for families with children.
The percentage of households with children experiencing a decline in income since March 13 far exceeds households without children who have experienced a decline in income.
When renters were asked whether they paid their rent last month or not, one out of five households with children responded that they did not make their rent payment, nearly double the rate of nonpayment of households without children.
More troubling is that nearly two out of every five families with children in N.C. said that they didn’t have any confidence that they would be able to pay next month’s rent or that they had only a slight level of confidence about paying next month’s rent.
Still more troubling, N.C. households who say that they have no confidence or only a slight level of confidence about paying next month’s rent are deeply divided by race and ethnicity. Nearly half of Black households, nearly one-third of Hispanic households and nearly one-quarter of mixed-race households report little confidence about paying next month’s rent.
In the Triangle area, communities are taking action to prevent evictions.
The Wake County Department of Housing Affordability and Community Revitalization has committed nearly $11.5 million in federal funding to provide housing support through community agencies. The Chapel Hill Emergency Housing Assistance Program provides financial assistance for Chapel Hill residents facing a housing crisis or who need help securing permanent housing. Durham County Crisis Assistance also offers rental support for households.
While eviction is traumatic for any household, it is particularly devastating for families with children. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March includes a moratorium on evictions for households who live in properties receiving federal funding or backed by federal mortgages through July 25. However, three out of every four households eligible for federal rental assistance do not receive it.
What can be done?
Governor Cooper can extend the moratorium on evictions for another six months. Coronavirus Relief Funds could be used to temporarily support rent payments as N.C. communities weather through the current public health emergency – prioritizing rental support for families with children. Without intervention, evictions for rent nonpayment will likely increase. The results of the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey should serve as an early warning bell.
Currently, there is no federal or state data system to track evictions. Eviction records are held within county court systems, which makes obtaining data difficult. Princeton University started an eviction lab that includes an Eviction Tracking System to monitor weekly updates on the number of eviction cases being filed across the United States. To date, 11 cities are participating. More cities are expected to be added in the year ahead. The Eviction Lab website calls on cities and states that want to be added to the Eviction Tracking System to let them know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homelessness is devastating for children. The warning bells are sounding loudly. It’s time for action to prevent homelessness. We can temporarily halt evictions for families with children, provide temporary rental support and commit to tracking eviction data for state and community data driven policies.
*Graph Sources: U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey Week 10, July 2-7, 2020 results.