How COVID-19 Exposed Weaknesses In Affordable Housing

posted by Amy Riegel, Director of Housing, CareSource

on January 26, 2021

Before the onset of a crisis, there are usually small compounding indicators, detectable but easily overlooked. This is especially true in health care, the economy, and social issues. For over a decade, affordable housing has been exhibiting troubling indicators that point to a looming crisis. The national shortage of affordable units and the growing disparity between wages and monthly rent are blatant, but often unheeded, red flags. Although low-income renters demonstrated resiliency, they never achieved recovery from the housing crisis in 2010. Instead, millions of Americans accepted evictions and utility debt as a means to survive.

With the stay-at-home orders of early 2020 and the economic downturn of COVID-19, we started to see the symptoms of a crisis that we had tried to ignore. Suddenly, every crack in the affordable housing continuum was exposed.

Local eviction moratoriums and the subsequent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) moratorium provided a stopgap, allowing people to remain housed, despite their inability to pay rent. However, it also exposed the shell game that is played in housing. The system is sustained by a subset of people cycling between eviction, couch surfing, homelessness, and placement in housing that is financially unsustainable—only to end up back at eviction. People are less likely to take on roommates due to concerns around COVID, units are not becoming available as evictions are on hold, and the most vulnerable are left homeless.

CareSource has continued to financially and materially support the immediate needs of homeless shelters. Through financial grants, hygiene kits, or intense care coordination, our teams are there. As we have seen during the crisis, our communities are just trying to get by, and we must be there to help address urgent needs.

Beyond the immediate symptoms, root causes of housing instability must also be addressed.

We must commit ourselves to stay at the table to address the underlying conditions fueling the affordable housing crisis. Affordable housing issues will not be solved when the crisis ends, so we must commit to the long-term solutions that confront the availability and affordability of housing. To this end, in August 2020 CareSource committed $50 million in investments for the development and preservation of affordable housing. The CareSource JobConnectTM program continues to work with our Medicaid members to obtain high-quality employment opportunities allowing them to build careers to provide financial sustainability and remain housed.

This year has demonstrated how we can come together to tackle a global crisis. We must all continue to work together to assemble the diverse tables to solve other complex and interdependent issues. Continued resolve from health care toward the affordable housing crisis is key. As health insurance providers, we must use our influence to advocate for efforts like rent relief. We must internally reflect on how we can use the innate aspects of our business to provide the necessary resources for housing stability.

Stable housing is essential to positive health outcomes. By working together, we can move beyond treating housing instability and finally advance a cure.