Addressing the Threat of COVID-19-Related Housing Instability and Displacement in Delaware

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Center for Community Research and Service & Institute for Public Administration Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Policy and Public Administration University of Delaware
In this brief we assess how the economic toll from COVID-19 and the responses to this pandemic will increase housing instability and housing displacement in Delaware. This provides a basis for planning a response that would mitigate the harmful outcomes related to increased housing instability, evictions, foreclosures and homelessness.
Key observations and recommendations that we present in this brief include: 1. Delaware already has a substantial number of households facing housing instability, eviction and homelessness. In all parts of the state, low wage workers are challenged with finding housing that is both affordable and close to their place of employment. 2. Occupational categories that are both low wage and at high-risk for COVID-19-related job loss include at least 30 percent of Delaware’s workforce. This is the base for widespread housing instability. The vulnerability of the workforce to job loss and the attendant financial need has already begun to manifest itself through the record number of unemployment claims filed during the first week of Delaware’s state of emergency. 3. Delaware has taken several necessary first steps towards addressing the pending increase in housing instability. Specifically, Delaware has imposed a comprehensive moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and utility disconnections through at least May 15. It has expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits to cover COVID-19-related job loss, and has implemented initial rental assistance measures. These measures amount to a positive start. 4. Income assistance is the initial bulwark against housing instability. Unemployment insurance is the most expedient vehicle for distributing income assistance, and Delaware’s Department of Labor should continue to expand and extend benefits to fit the needs of those who lose work as a consequence of COVID-19. Beyond that, there will be a need for income assistance for others impacted by COVID-19 and the attendant response that will not be eligible for unemployment benefits. State and county entities, as well as private sources, need to respond to this need beyond what is now available. 5. Widely available emergency assistance, with and without other services, will be critical for many to avoid housing displacement. Such resources can prevent housing instability from becoming evictions, foreclosures, and homelessness. 6. For those who do lose their housing, measures to put them back into housing will best mitigate the attendant expense and trauma. Most housing displacement stemming from the looming economic downturn can be short-lived and non-recurring if various housing assistance measures become widely available. 7. The homeless services system cannot accommodate substantially increased demand. In the absence of attention to measures described earlier, there will be a need to either expand shelter capacity or relegate displaced households to makeshift living situations.
COVID-19, homelessness, housing