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Op-Ed: COVID Relief Bill will Have a Valuable Local Impact

The recently-passed COVID relief bill is so large and complex that one key point might get missed: it will have a valuable impact on our community. And that impact extends beyond the “survival checks.”

The measures in this bill as they relate to homelessness help control the spread of COVID-19, limit the rise in numbers of homeless families and the costs associated with supporting them, and provide relief to property owners whose investments are imperiled by the loss of rental income.

Recent data shows 15% of Kentucky households – 115,208 in all – are behind on rent, and 32% of renters think it is somewhat to very likely they will have to leave their home within the next two months due to eviction. If renters are evicted – largely due to circumstances beyond their control as a result of the pandemic – that triggers a cascade of challenges for our community.

People made homeless by evictions have fewer options than ever before, as extended families are more reluctant to provide a temporary respite due to concerns about the spread of the virus. Many will need to go to shelters, where congregant living makes social distancing difficult, if not impossible. Research by the Minnesota Department of Health found people experiencing homelessness are hospitalized at much higher rates than the general population – 48%, compared to 5% of Minnesotans overall. That drives up costs, as does the fact that our unhoused neighbors rely on emergency rooms when they get sick. In some cities where the winter COVID surge overwhelmed the health care system, part of the increased demand was associated with unsheltered individuals with COVID who were too sick to recuperate out-of-doors.

Evicted tenants also don’t pay rent. This loss of income won’t just affect large property owners but mom-and-pop landlords that are especially vulnerable and, in some cases, risk losing the properties they’re depending on to fund their retirements.

The best way to address these cascading challenges caused by evictions is to stop people from being evicted in the first place. This approach aligns with data that consistently shows it is much more cost-effective to invest in preventing homelessness than to care for the unhoused.

The COVID-19 relief bill goes far in mitigating these challenges. It would replenish the emergency rental assistance fund created by Congress in December for low income renters who have lost income because of the pandemic. The bill contains funding to provide non-congregate shelters that facilitate social distancing. Housing Choice Vouchers funded through this bill can be used by individuals and families who are precariously housed, fleeing domestic violence, or living doubled up with friends and relatives because their income is insufficient to live independently. It also provides landlords with vital revenues.

Without question, you know someone who is at risk of eviction or owns rental properties that are in jeopardy. This bill will offer them real relief.

-Danielle Amrine, CEO of Welcome House of Northern Kentucky

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