Housing security is emerging as Indiana’s top need during the ongoing pandemic, with data supporting that COVID-19 income loss as the main cause. And while Governor Holcomb’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium has been essential for Hoosiers economically affected by COVID-19, it has also obscured the mounting need for housing assistance throughout the pandemic and the community’s recovery period to follow. Without coordinated action this month by state policymakers to enact a working rental assistance program and support from Indiana’s Congressional delegation to fund it, many Hoosier families remain at risk of eviction and homelessness when the state’s eviction moratorium expires June 30.
Data from the Indiana 211 Partnership show that despite the eviction pause, 22,354 Hoosiers have contacted 211 seeking housing services, with a one-week maximum of 2,707 requests over that time. Housing requests are up 22% since before the declared public health emergency. Requests for rent payment assistance, 11, 253 total since the COVID-19 public health emergency, have come in at a rate nearly three times any other housing assistance type, including for homeless shelters or mortgage assistance. Throughout May, housing was the 211 network’s top need for both referrals and unmet needs, ahead of utilities, food/meals, and health care. And while the majority of housing requests come from Indiana’s largest cities, they come from all regions of the state and from urban, suburban, and rural counties alike. Analysis by Indiana 211 found that, consistent with pre-emergency data, single females were the most common household composition reporting housing needs. However, the most common reported employment status since the declared public health emergency is now ‘unemployed and looking for work’. Indiana 211 reports “[t]his is not consistent with pre-public health emergency data, where unable to work/disabled was the primary reported status.” COVID-19 related lack of income is now fueling the need for housing assistance.
The burden of lost jobs and income during the pandemic are largely falling on low-income Hoosier renter households, but the assistance provided to date is not being directed to them. Since Governor Holcomb declared a public health emergency on March 6, Hoosiers have filed 698,492 initial unemployment claims. However, national estimates find that for every 10 successful filings, three to four people tried to apply but could not get through, and two more found the system too difficult to attempt to apply, meaning there are up to 419,094 more Hoosiers who have lost jobs and income but have not been successfully assisted with state or federal pandemic unemployment assistance. In addition, of the over quarter-million Hoosiers with continued unemployment claims, the largest industries affected include accommodation and food services, retail, health care and social assistance, administrative support and waste management, the kinds of jobs held by low-income renters, women, and Hoosiers of color. And while help has been made available to Indiana homeowners to avoid foreclosure through the Hardest Hit Fund, so far the state’s guidance for Hoosier renters on June 1 still relied on advising tenants to ask landlords to set up payment plans or consult local charities and churches for assistance to avoid eviction.
COVID-19’s increasing impact on housing has also been hurting Indiana’s housing providers, as evidenced by collections data that declined sharply from April to May. The Indiana Apartment Association reported that members only collected 79% of rent on-time in May, down from 94% in April, with a delinquency rate jumping from 6% in April to 21% in May. In response, 95% of IAA member properties are waiving late fees, 46% are creating payment plans, 9% are discounting rent paid on time, and 5% are deferring rent. IAA finds that the highest percentage of May delinquency comes from market rate/conventional properties (compared to low-income tax credit program or student housing). The income category most likely to be delinquent is not the lowest ($0-$20,000), but between $20,000-$30,000 for 20% of renters who were delinquent in May. This is the range of the average Indiana renter’s wage and provides further evidence that Hoosiers whose jobs are most likely to be affected by COVID-19 are also those least likely to be able to afford rent.
And while the eviction moratorium masks the true need, estimates from the National Low Income Housing Coalition find that 267,832 renter households have been affected by the pandemic in Indiana. But because only 9,051 of those households are served by HUD-subsidized housing, 258,782 low-income Hoosier renter households will need emergency rental assistance by September 2020, two months after the eviction moratorium is lifted and pandemic unemployment insurance ends. Using Congressional Budget Office estimates of an unemployment rate that stays above 10% through July 2021, over 186,000 Hoosier households will likely continue to need rent assistance through next summer. The cost to keep these affected Hoosier renters housed is nearly $98M per month and $1.6B total, but that pales in comparison to the devastating personal, economic, and public health costs of Indiana’s policymakers allowing nearly a quarter of a million Hoosier families to risk being evicted or becoming homeless.
The economic effects of COVID-19 will not disappear overnight. A new nationwide poll from Opportunity Starts At Home finds “over half (54%) of all people express concern that they will lose their housing if they don’t get additional assistance to help cover the costs – and this concern is more acute among lower-income households and people of color (61% of households making below $40,000 say this is a concern; and 72% of African Americans and 76% of Latinos say this is a concern, compared to 43% of whites).” In addition, among all Americans, 93% believe the Congress should take major action to “provide emergency rental assistance for people who are struggling to afford the rent and are at serious risk of eviction as a result of the coronavirus outbreak”.
Simply put: to address Hoosiers’ urgent need for housing stability before the eviction pause expires on June 30, Indiana’s state policymakers must implement a COVID-19 housing stability plan and Indiana’s Congressional delegation must provide adequate resources to ensure no Hoosier is evicted or made homeless due to the pandemic.