By Shailly Gupta Barnes and Tony Eskridge

(With the support of Tyrone Hanley and the National LGBTQ+ Anti-Poverty Action Network)

Before the pandemic there were 8-11 million people who were homeless or on the verge of homelessess. 

  • This is in part because, alongside cuts in federal housing assistance and the affordable housing stock, over the past thirty years, rents have gone up faster than incomes. From 2001-2018, renters’ incomes grew by only 0.5%, but rents increased by 13%. In 2021, there was no place in the country where an individual working a full-time job earning the federal minimum wage ($7.25) could afford a two-bedroom apartment. (CBPP)
  • LGBTQ+ folks experience homelessess at higher rates. According to a 2020 study, 8.3% of transgender people reported having recent experiences with homelessness compared to 1.4% of non-LGBTQ people. 30% of transgender people reported having experienced homelessness at some point in their lives and are four times less likely to own a home compared to the population as a whole. An even higher percentage of transgender women of color – 59% of American Indian trans women, 51% of Black trans women, 51% of multiracial trans women, and 49% of Middle Eastern trans women – reported having experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

During the pandemic, housing became necessary as a public health measure, however, because of the economic impact of COVID-19, it was estimated that 30-40 million people were at risk of eviction in 2020. 

  • This prompted a nation-wide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures that was estimated to keep 30 million people in their homes. Despite the moratorium, evictions and sweeps of encampments continued in many places. (Aspen Institute and NLIHC)
  • Although more than $46 billion was allocated to help with housing costs, most of this was left to languish in bureaucratic processes and never reached their intended recipients. (NYTimes)
  • The federal moratorium on eviction was lifted in August 2021. There were at that point 15 million people at risk of eviction. (Politico)
  • Researchers found that expired eviction moratoriums led to an additional 433,700 cases of COVID-19 and 10,700 associated deaths.

These conditions prompted rent strikes across the country. People also were blocking eviction hearings and engaging in other actions to stay in their homes. 

Post pandemic, the rise in rents is even larger than anticipated and will increase inflation. According to NLIHC, 48% renters are cost burdened (more than 30% of their income goes to rent). 

  • Nearly 11 million renters are severely cost burdened (>50% of income on rent). Metro areas with severe cost burdens include: Memphis (53.3%), Los Angeles (55.8%), Chicago (47.1%), Atlanta (48.5%), New York/Newark/Jersey City (50.7%). 
  • In mid-October, 14,880,427 people (8,395,100 renters and 6,485,327 mortgage payers) were behind in their housing payments. 9,247,141 people were not confident that they would make next month’s housing payments. (Household Pulse Survey)
  • In an effort to keep this crisis out of the public eye, some cities and states are criminalizing encampments. Medford, Oregon, outlawed tents in 2020 and hundreds of people have been evicted from their encampments. Wisconsin will now set up legal encampments, but make it illegal to set up a tent in any other place than those designated encampments. Washington DC has a similar law. 

This is why the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has been calling for the following to secure the human right to housing: 

  • Stop all evictions. This includes evictions of those living in cars, encampments and other temporary shelters) and foreclosures. 
  • Establish a true count of homelessness and housing insecurity. The approximately “550,000 who are homeless on any given night” is inadequate and results in policy responses that are too small to address the scope of the problem.
  • Mobilize resources and capacity to turn vacant buildings into affordable, safe housing units. During the pandemic, hotels were turned into temporary housing. We can do more of this quickly and well.
  • Relieve housing and rental debt that cannot be paid. There is precedent for this from the 1930s and the crisis demands a rapid, bold response. 
  • Prohibit rent increases that are incommensurate with economic conditions and ability to pay. Instead pursue rent stabilization policies for basic needs like housing, health care, water, etc. 
  • Prohibit speculation in housing that is driving up the costs of housing. 
  • Raise the federal minimum wage to a housing wage. In 2021, a national housing wage was estimated to be $24.90 for a 2-bedroom apartment at fair market value and just over $20 for a 1-bedroom apartment.

Resources for Additional Study: