Housing is Healthcare!

Pearl River     At ACORN we like the slogan, “Housing is Health Care.”  We saw it or picked it up somewhere.  I wish I could remember, so I could give proper credit, but in the meantime, we’re touting this in many countries where we work, because it speaks a clear truth to power and people.

In that vein, an article caught my eye because I recognized two of the lead authors, Elnora Raymond from Georgia Tech and Dan Immergluck from Georgia State.  Our paths had crossed before and both had been very helpful in refining our understanding of predatory contract land purchases during our work with the ACORN Home Savers’ Campaign.  They were joined by a host of others in arguing for an emergency housing response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Georgia, but despite their specific state-based advocacy, many of their highlighted recommendations, if not all of them, could equally make a huge difference in states across the country in absence of a national policy.

Of course, they join all of us in demanding a moratorium on all evictions and foreclosures during the crisis, and, importantly, for sixty days past that time.  They also note a clear issue that has cropped up in many places where, despite state orders, some counties and parishes are still processing evictions.  Similarly, they point out that non-judicial foreclosures also need to be halted, which has been overlooked thus far in many places.  Let’s keep it simple.  You can’t obey a stay-at-home order if you don’t have a home!

In making their case they argue for funds to be allocated to small landlords to enable a “no eviction” policy, but they also call for penalties for landlords who initiate informal evictions, and a doubling down with the full weight of the state on landlords who do so in homes with small children, elderly over 60, or other particularly vulnerable tenants.

Utilities are essential for a healthy home, so a no shutoff policy is critical.  Water, gas, and electric are on the list, but we would add internet and cable, in order to allow home schooling and make stay-at-home orders actually work, particularly for parents working from home or essential and still on the job.

The Georgia team calls for “operational support” for section 8 facilities, homeless shelters, group homes, and other semi-institutional operations that are providing housing for the most susceptible.  They recognize that many of these outfits, especially nonprofits, are likely overwhelmed in the pandemic.  The ability to have additional support like deep cleaning, quarantine rooms, and other extraordinary and often expensive provisions are important insights.

Looking at the likely housing crisis after the pandemic subsides, they caution against triggering another 2007-2008 housing crash.  They grab the low hanging fruit arguing that banks and other mortgage holders not add penalties and put the skipped payments on the backend of the loans in a modification, but they also call for actual reduction of payments and modifications to the new market values.  We remember our failure to win this in the Great Recession, but agreed it’s worth taking another bite at this policy in the Pandemic Depression.

We’re with them on many other recommendations.  We need to dig down on these issues now, because once this fight against the virus is over, there is an even bigger and longer fight likely to come to win housing security as a vital part of permanent healthcare protection in order to achieve justice and equity for low-and-moderate income families.

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