Habitat’s advocacy efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic
The Cost of Home campaign works to address the U.S.’s staggering housing affordability and housing stability issues. The abrupt arrival of the novel coronavirus and its effects on the country’s health and economy have only compounded the need for this vital housing advocacy work.
Habitat for Humanity quickly expanded our existing advocacy efforts to help the millions of individuals in the U.S. now struggling with housing insecurity as a result of the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Use this tracker to stay up to date on innovative ways that Habitat’s network is advocating across the nation. Check back often for updates and to learn how Habitat is leading housing advocacy across the U.S.
You can also read more about some of our past Cost of Home campaign advocacy achievements.
Revived mortgage crisis fund for homeowners, established new funding for renters
Habitat Indiana worked with the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority to reinvest in an existing mortgage assistance fund for Indianans facing COVID-related financial hardship. The success of that effort paved the way for the creation of a similar statewide assistance program for renters.
In 2010, the U.S. Treasury established the Hardest Hit Fund to help the areas of the country most impacted by the mortgage crisis. Indiana was among the 18 states chosen to receive that targeted assistance. “Most of the funding in those states has been spent long before now. But our state had a little bit left and some systems and administrators of the program still in place,” explains Gina Leckron, state director of Habitat Indiana. So Habitat Indiana urged the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority to put that remaining money to work helping families impacted by the latest crisis.
Not only was Habitat Indiana successful in their advocacy efforts to reinstate the Hardest Hit Fund and to rework the cumbersome filing requirements that had prevented many families from receiving the help they needed the first time around, but they also persuaded IHCDA to secure an additional $30 million for the fund. This relatively quick success helped smooth the way for a similar program to assist renters. In coalition with other housing organizations, Habitat Indiana convinced the state to set aside $25 million from state reserves and CARES Act funds to provide economically impacted renters with up to $2,000 to help cover past due and ongoing monthly rent payments or late fees.
Helped stabilize homeowners through financial assistance and counseling
Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity secured CARES Act funding from their local city and county governments to address the rising insecurity among homeowners in their community as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I remember how many foreclosures we had with the last recession. Complete city blocks flipped from ownership to rentals owned by big investment firms,” says Maureen Fife, CEO of Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity. She didn’t want to see that happen to hardworking families again. “When families lose their homes, the stability of the neighborhood suffers. Cohesion drops. It affects everyone.”
For Fife, the answer lies with advocacy. “It’s important for communities to be heard — and advocacy is how we make our elected officials know what we value as a community,” she says. Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat worked with the city and county governments to ensure federal CARES Act funding was reserved to help families maintain their housing during the pandemic.
Through their effort, $2 million in mortgage assistance is available to homeowners who have experienced job loss or reduction in wages due to COVID-19. In recognition of their deep engagement with the community over the past 35 years, Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat will help administer the program. County residents can apply for up to three months of assistance, which is sent directly to their loan servicer or mortgage holder. An additional $200,000 in funding was set aside for community partners like Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat to provide foreclosure prevention counseling to residents. Through counseling, partners will help homeowners determine if they can avoid foreclosure through forbearance, loan modifications and mortgage assistance, among other solutions.
Procured funding to help renters remain stably housed during the pandemic
Habitat for Humanity MidOhio, the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio and the city of Columbus partnered to use supplemental Community Development Block Grants from the CARES Act to help low-income families make rent and stay in their homes.
As a result of the collective work of their 21 members, the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio has been able to help families tackle their housing needs — even as they navigate a public health crisis. Habitat for Humanity MidOhio President and CEO E.J. Thomas helped found the AHACO after realizing that there is “power in numbers” when it comes to permanently addressing the unmet need for decent and affordable places to live in central Ohio.
Of the $5 million grant the Columbus city government received through the CARES Act, Habitat MidOhio and AHACO was able to put more than half of it — $3.6 million — toward rental assistance for the city’s lowest-earning families.
“In helping families cover rent, not only are we helping stabilize them and their communities, but we’re keeping the entire housing continuum protected,” explains Thomas. The rental assistance acts as a safety net — catching families before they fall into further economic distress and homelessness. “Plus, by helping them stay home, we can help them stay healthy — which is most important of all.”
Extended protection for families at risk of eviction or foreclosure
Habitat Iowa successfully advocated for the funding of both the State Housing Trust Fund as well as eviction and foreclosure prevention measures to ensure that Iowans continue to not only have access to shelter but can sustain it.
Since March, Habitat for Humanity of Iowa’s advocacy committee has been working with state leaders to help Iowans weather the pandemic. Over teleconferences and email, the committee has convinced state leaders of the importance of housing in keeping families stable and healthy.
As a result of the committee’s outreach to legislators, the state will continue to fund the State Housing Trust Fund — a program that incentivizes the development of affordable housing. Through their outreach to the governor, Iowa became one of the few states where unrestricted funding from the CARES Act was designated to help families stay in their homes. Through the creation of the Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program, renters and homeowners who have been economically impacted by COVID-19 can receive CARES Act funds to help cover housing payments.
“It’s hard for families now, but once those federal stimulus programs go away, that’s when we’re really going to see the housing crisis hit across the country,” says Lisa Houser, executive director of Habitat Iowa. “So, we’re happy that our governor has proactively put this program in place so that we’re prepared when it hits Iowa.”
Secured emergency funding for homeowners
Habitat Oregon successfully led efforts to extend state and federal emergency relief for thousands of homeowners in the state affected by the coronavirus.
In late March 2020, when the impact of statewide shutdowns began to take effect, Habitat Oregon successfully led efforts lobbying the governor’s office to secure statewide access to the Federal Small Business Administration disaster relief programs, including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Access to these loans helped thousands of homeowners and small businesses in Oregon stay afloat during the early economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic.
Another important advocacy win for Oregon came with their successful effort to extend federal funding for the Oregon Homeownership Stabilization Initiative, created during the Great Recession to help cover mortgage holder’s payments in arrears. Before COVID-19, the state was winding down the program since federal funding would be lost. However, Oregon Housing and Community Services leaned in with other affordable homeownership advocates to win a portion of the program’s and Habitat Oregon leftover federal funding. In June, with the help of Habitat Oregon and other housing advocates, the Oregon state legislature set aside $25 million in federal Coronavirus relief funds for the OHSI. This funding is expected to assist 5,000 Oregon households, helping them to maintain stable homeownership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Activating advocates virtually for housing funds
Habitat for Humanity Twin Cities quickly made their annual lobbying day happen online, and ended up with a record number of participants working to secure emergency housing funding.
In response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus, Habitat for Humanity Twin Cities began working tirelessly to lobby for increased funding for the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program, which provides emergency housing assistance funds that can be used for rent, mortgage or utility payments. They also pushed to make housing infrastructure bonds a priority in the package to help fund affordable housing developments and boost the economy.
Their annual Hill Day couldn’t go on in light of social distancing requirements — but that didn’t stop them. Habitat Twin Cities, in partnership with Habitat Minnesota and other affiliates in the state, built a Virtual Hill Day landing page in the span of a single afternoon. They provided customized materials, easy-to-use resources on virtual lobbying, media outlines and talking points. The team hosted its first-ever Twitterstorm to boost social media engagement with lawmakers. The event was seamless, and moreover they had a record number of participants — a 39% increase from last year’s Hill Day, with a greater statewide reach!
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