Kelley of the Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless said strategies that worked in earlier storm seasons would pose additional health risks in 2020 due to the pandemic. Her group has previously evacuated homeless people to inland cities that have agreed to shelter and feed them, but an evacuation during a pandemic would be difficult.
“If we had to do an evacuation, [it] would just be slower, because if we’re going to try to keep people with their masks on and separated, you can’t cram them all on a bus,” said Kelley. “That’s not going to work.”
Providing shelter that is relatively safe from the risks of Covid-19 is another challenge.
“Obviously, they’ll be protected from the storm … but at the same time you have to put them into locations where they are now protected from the transmission of this virus,” said Tom Jeffery, senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic Spatial Solutions. Jeffery said people could be sheltered in hotels or even in auditoriums or gyms, given appropriate precautions.
In cases where an evacuation from the city is not necessary, keeping renters in their homes would reduce the number of people who might have to rely on city shelters for safety. Rental assistance in these parts of the country would also serve as protection against summer heat and storms but would require significant federal aid and could necessitate an additional eviction moratorium.
The Urban Institute estimated that, without expanded state and federal unemployment assistance, providing aid to renters who were cost-burdened even before the pandemic and to those who lost income due to the crisis would cost $15.5 billion per month. The researchers also estimated that returning renters to their pre-pandemic rent-to-income ratio would cost $21.3 billion per month without expanded unemployment benefits.
Current data are “actually signaling that unless we do something very different from what we did in the past … racial inequality in homeownership is likely to just stay with us,” said Jung Hyun Choi, a research associate with the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
The housing crisis in 2020 does not resemble the 2008 financial crisis in circumstances, but it could have a similar effect on Black wealth and homeownership. Following the financial crisis, Black homeownership has fallen, and wealth inequality has widened by race and income level, according to data from Pew Research Center.
Congress has not made clear whether additional relief for renters will be included in the next coronavirus aid package. Discussions over the aid package at present include extended unemployment benefits, and President Donald Trump said Thursday that he could issue an executive order extending the federal eviction moratorium as early as this weekend if Congress can’t agree on a plan.
“It’s only one thing for so many people that keeps them away from being homeless,” said Roller, “and that hurricane or that fire that pushes them out of their home may be that thing that tips them over the edge without the federal government having any comprehensive response to what’s going on right now.”