Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal moratorium – or ban – on evictions. That leaves an estimated 20,000 Idahoans at risk of eviction or homelessness. For the stability of all our communities, it is more important than ever that our Idaho Legislature act to approve funds so that all eligible Idaho families have access to the emergency rent and utility assistance they need to remain stably housed.
This year, the U.S. Congress approved emergency rental assistance that worked hand-in-hand with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium. The funds ensured renters impacted by the pandemic remained safely housed, while their landlords remained financially whole. We know from the research that the moratoriums – and the greater housing stability – also reduced the spread of COVID-19 and saved lives. Families with their own housing were more likely and more able to self-isolate, practice good hygiene and avoid overcrowded living environments. One study estimated an additional 9,730 Idahoans caught COVID-19 and 157 died of it between the end of the state’s temporary ban on evictions in April 2020, and the implementation of the federal ban in September.
The rise of the delta variant and its escalating spread only increases the need for rental assistance for both community health and economic reasons. We now see that delta spreads easier among children than the original strain, and families face increased exposure as children return to school. Parents and educators increasingly will have to stay home from work to reduce the spread of infection and/or care for sick family members. Many working Idahoans who do so will increase their struggle to pay rent and, without assistance, may be unable to maintain their housing and/or be forced into group living environments such as shelters or “doubling up” with other families.
The available federally authorized funds also provide for other evidence-based housing supports – such as eviction prevention and diversion programs, legal or mediation services, case management services, housing counseling, housing-related services for survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking and specialized services for individuals with disabilities and seniors that support their ability to access or maintain housing. These services are not currently funded or made available throughout Idaho; and those who need them most have very little time to understand their legal options before it’s too late. We know it is significantly less expensive to PREVENT an eviction than to provide a family with rapid-rehousing services, find them new accommodations and interrupt school and jobs. Tapping into these temporary federal resources to establish these much-needed programs is paramount.
Access to emergency rental assistance and housing supports remains important as Idaho continues its economic recovery and families continue to experience hardship. Idaho lawmakers must approve the use of federal funds again during the next legislative session so our communities will continue to have access to relief for as long as needed. Idahoans will benefit for years to come from funding and services meant to keep Idaho’s families healthy and safely housed. It is important to us all.
Denise Caruzzi is president of the Boise/Ada County Homeless Coalition, a collaboration of housing advocates, service providers and individuals interested in building healthy, safe and thriving communities. She is also a career organizational development specialist and an active member of the Boise community.