Federal Response Fails to Meet Rental Housing Needs

With a steady restaurant job and an affordable APAH apartment for his family, Eric* thought he had finally reached a strong, stable place where and his wife could begin to plan and save for the future. But all of that was before the COVID-19 pandemic—and in a flash, that stability was gone. Like so many service workers,   he lost his job and his family lost their ability to pay for rent, food and other necessities.

Eric and his family are not alone. In April, 358 APAH households were unable to pay their rent. That translates into a 12% loss in rent payments, or nearly $400,000 across all APAH’s properties. As the pandemic goes on and families experienced continued loss of income and exhaust savings, APAH anticipates these numbers will grow. These losses have long term impacts for the stability of households and for APAH as a whole—and the federal response to date is coming up short—for residents and for nonprofit affordable housing providers like APAH.

A local restaurant closure in Arlington.

“The government is rightly spending a lot of money to address the financial impact of the pandemic,” notes Bobby Rozen, a national expert on affordable housing finance and member of the APAH Board, “but we should all be outraged by the lack of resources put toward affordable housing and the needs of low-income renters and the operators of the affordable housing buildings they live in.  Unfortunately, there appears to be greater concern for the economic plight of cruise ship operators and oil companies than for the future of affordable housing.”

One piece of good news for low-income families, is that households are protected from eviction, but that protection does not mean that rent obligations are erased. Without rent or income assistance, low-income families will come out of the pandemic with debt that they have no ability to repay. To address this, APAH is working to help residents access unemployment insurance—both state and new federal funding through the CARES Act—but the systems are overwhelmed, the process complex, and funds slow to arrive. Many residents also will not qualify because of their work history or documentation status. For these residents, some type of rent subsidy will be essential.

Affordable housing itself is also at risk if rent assistance—either directly to tenants or to landlords—is not a part of the federal response. “We are committed to supporting our residents through this crisis,” said APAH CEO, Nina Janopaul. “At the same time, housing providers need support so that properties can pay their mortgages and maintain their properties.” Advocates still hope that rental assistance and infrastructure support will be a key component of a fourth stimulus package so that the frontline challenges facing low-income families can be addressed.

As an APAH supporter, you share a commitment to improving the lives and meeting the urgent needs of low-income residents. Today, that need has never been greater. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Advocate: Write to your federal representatives urging them to make sure that the needs of low-income families are addressed in the next stimulus package. Let them know that critical benefits like unemployment are appreciated, but that they are slow in reaching the people in greatest need.
  • Say thanks: Arlington County and the nonprofit sector are working closely together to get food and emergency resources to residents in need. Let them know these efforts are appreciated—and urge them to listen closely to feedback from frontline organizations to make sure that programs are working and accessible.
  • Give: No matter what the federal, state and local response, there will be gaps. APAH’s Resident Emergency Fund helps fill these critical needs for residents.

“The COVID pandemic has underscored how critical affordable housing is—we need to come out of this crisis with even more commitment and more resources to address the nation-wide shortage of affordable housing,” said Janopaul.

*Not his real name.