Opening Doors to Housing Security

5/11/2022

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By Leo Garcia, Cameron Rifkin and Emily Maher| May 12 2022 | NCSL Fiscal Road to Recovery Brief Series

About the Fiscal Road to Recovery Brief Series

This six-part brief series examines state CSFRF spending priorities a year after the program launched and showcases examples to help inform policymakers as they combat the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As with many facets of society, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated housing hardships throughout the nation. A stark 9% drop in economic output in the second quarter of 2020 led to unprecedented levels of unemployment and a rapid increase in poverty. The deterioration of household incomes contributed to rising cases of eviction, housing instability, utility debt and mortgage delinquency. Basic shelter and stable housing conditions have fundamental implications for the health and well-being of individuals and communities. Recognizing the impact of the pandemic on housing security, 28 states and territories have invested roughly $7.2 billion in Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSFRF) towards housing-related assistance, or 5.5% of all allocated funds. This brief outlines the most common uses of these funds to address housing needs.

Broad Latitude in the Use of Recovery Funds Towards Housing

The recovery funds program offers states, territories and the District of Columbia wide spending discretion to tackle an extensive variety of issues. The U.S. Department of Treasury’s final rule on the fiscal recovery funds provides guidance on eligible uses and recognizes the program as a means to combat housing insecurity.

Accepted uses towards housing include assistance to households, the provision of government services, and responses to health and economic impacts. This can come in the form of rent and utility assistance, housing development policies, homeless services, and more. The final rule also prioritizes investments in those disproportionately affected by the pandemic and communities characterized by preexisting disparities.

28 States and Territories Prioritizing Housing Security

Priorities in Housing

Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance

Evictions for nonpayment of rent can lead to homelessness, legal issues and negative credit reports. At the height of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control enacted a national eviction moratorium, allowing additional time for rent relief. Once the moratorium expired, millions of people were expected to pay outstanding rent or face eviction. In response, some states enacted legislation to provide direct rental assistance and eviction prevention services to families at risk of becoming homeless, such as:

  • Nevada: $5 million for direct payment of rental assistance to landlords.
  • New Jersey: $500 million to create the Eviction Prevention Program and allocate funding for rental assistance.
  • North Carolina: $15 million for rapid rehousing services, including deposit and rental assistance, for families at risk of homelessness due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Washington: $403 million to boost the state’s emergency rental and utility assistance.

Utility Assistance

Families unable to pay their utility bills often face consequences such as lower credit scores, debt accrual and potential eviction. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association estimates the national utility debt increased by $2.1 billion from December 2020 to December 2021. Some policies financed by the fiscal recovery funds to provide financial assistance and prevent utility shut offs include:

  • Alaska: $7 million for grants to electric utility companies to address delinquent payments due to COVID-19.
  • Maryland: $103 million for utility assistance. $83 million of these funds is dedicated to low-income households, while $20 million is dedicated to families of modest means.
  • Virginia: $120 million for direct assistance to residential utility customers with accounts over 60 days in arrears.

Housing Development and Funding

Housing shortages are often the result of a mismatch between the housing supply and demand. Nearly 7 million additional affordable homes are needed nationwide for the approximately 11 million people living in extremely low-income households. States have used fiscal recovery funds to increase the supply of affordable housing. For example:

  • Connecticut: $20 million over two years to finance the housing trust fund, housing development grant fund and create a taskforce to better use federal funding for housing needs.
  • Iowa: $100 million for a variety of affordable housing initiatives, including increased workforce housing tax credits, funding for the downtown housing grant program and the creation of a minority homebuyer down payment assistance pilot program.
  • Pennsylvania: $50 million to accelerate Low-Income Housing Tax Credit construction projects which had been delayed due to rapidly rising construction, material and labor costs.

Shelter Services and Property Renovation

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of chronically homeless individuals increased by 15% between 2019 and 2020. Crowded shelters increase the likelihood of contracting COVID for people experiencing homelessness, who are already at a higher risk due to social factors and preexisting health concerns. States are using ARPA recovery funds to expand shelter services and renovate lodging establishments to address homelessness issues and lessen the impact of COVID-19, including:

  • Colorado: $45 million for grants and loans to local governments and nonprofit organizations for the rental, acquisition or renovation of underutilized hotels and motels to provide non-congregate sheltering or affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Maine: $11.5 million, including $10 million to support homeless shelters and $1.5 million for housing navigators.
  • Vermont: $94 million to provide housing and increase shelter capacity, prioritizing people without housing or people enrolled in hotel and motel voucher programs.
  • Wisconsin: $6 million to provide resources to homeless shelters, domestic abuse shelters, and youth homelessness and runaway centers during the winter months.

This brief touches on only some of the ways states have used fiscal recovery funds to alleviate pandemic-induced concerns related to housing. Additional examples and program details can be found in NCSL’s allocation database.

States, territories and the District of Columbia must obligate federal recovery funds by December 2024 and spend them by December 2026. Until then, NCSL will continue tracking how these funds are prioritized and allocated. NCSL also has a database tracking housing and homeless legislation for states, D.C., and territories. 

Leo Garcia is a policy analyst with NCSL's Fiscal Affairs Program. He covers economic development, budget, and tax issues for NCSL.

Cameron Rifkin is a policy associate with NCSL's Children and Families Program. He covers housing and homelessness issues for NCSL.

Emily Maher is a senior policy specialist with NCSL’s Fiscal Affairs Program. She covers budget, tax, state-local, and economic development issues for NCSL. 

Additional Resources

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