No one will forget 2020. It was a year full of so much misery and chaos, but it’s ending on a positive note now that Congress just approved $25 billion for emergency rental assistance and increased funding for housing and homeless programs.
We started advocating for emergency rent relief back in March, so it’s especially gratifying to see it included in the new bipartisan economic relief bill, especially since Ohio’s two U.S. senators played key roles in getting it passed.
Sen. Rob Portman was one of the key negotiators that pushed to include eviction prevention assistance in the $900 pandemic relief package. Sen. Sherrod Brown introduced emergency rental assistance legislation back in May and kept on fighting for it. Rep. Anthony Gonzales also helped generate bipartisan support for the concept in the U.S. House.
We anticipate that Ohio will receive about $778.1 million in rent relief dollars by late February. Fortunately, the Ohio Development Services Agency recently allocated $55.8 million in Community Development Block Grant funding from the CARES Act for rental assistance. This comes after the initial $55 million that the state appropriated last fall for the Home Relief Grant Program, and should cover the gap before the new relief funds reach our state.
Congress also finally passed fiscal year 2021 appropriations (for the fiscal year that started October 2020) with increases for many of the regular housing and homelessness programs administered by HUD and the USDA. The spending bill likely provides enough funding to renew existing contracts for the Housing Choice Voucher program and Project-Based Rental Assistance. The Homeless Assistance Grant program was increased 8 percent to $223 million. Congress also increased many other HUD programs and canceled the Continuums of Care funding competition for 2021 (NLIHC Summary).
We spent much of 2020 advocating for emergency rental assistance and increased federal support for housing programs. But so much more happened this year. Here are a few of the other things COHHIO accomplished over the past year – thanks to our tireless staff and the dedicated support of our donors and members:
- Created the Pandemic Emergency Fund with nearly $1.8 million in donations to issue 90 grants to help local homeless agencies deconcentrate shelters, maintain operations, and obtain emergency supplies;
- Delivered much-needed PPE and supplies to frontline homeless agencies, including 75,000 masks, 113,000 gloves, 40,500 bottles of hand soap, 245 gallons of hand sanitizer, 960 rolls of toilet paper, 550 bottles of disinfectant, 100 digital thermometers, and 120 personal hygiene kits;
- Successfully advocated for the state to invest $111 million in emergency rental assistance for underemployed Ohioans;
- Encouraged OHFA to allocate $11 million for homelessness prevention, rapid rehousing, and helping shelters get the funding, space, and PPE they need to continue operating;
- Established a $500,000 Risk Mitigation Fund to encourage more property owners to participate in rehousing programs;
- Created the Housing Now for Homeless Families program with $16 million in federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funding to get families out of homelessness;
- Advocated for people experiencing homelessness and service providers to be included in the state’s vaccine distribution plan;
- Helped generate record turnout among low-income voters in the 2020 General Election through our Ohio Votes initiative;
- Awarded $1 million from CareSource to distribute funds to groups on the frontlines battling homelessness, and a $2.5 million Day 1 Families Fund grant to help local organizations end family homelessness in Ohio;
- Assessed shelter readiness and urged health officials to include people experiencing homelessness in pandemic response efforts;
- Promoted racial equity by issuing guidance and training homeless services providers to address racial disparity locally;
- Pushed back on efforts to weaken fair housing protections by reversing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and Disparate Impact rule, and;
- Opposed harmful changes to the Community Reinvestment Act that would reduce investment in low-income communities throughout Ohio.
It doesn’t look like the frenetic pace will slow down much next year as the economic recession lingers, and continues to disproportionately harm those who can least afford it. However, with vaccines on the way and more resources in place to fight back against economic turmoil, I’m optimistic that 2021 will be a much better year.
And we look forward to working with new leadership at HUD. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge is a solid choice to lead this agency. She’s been a real champion for food assistance programs and civil rights. I’m hopeful that she’ll assemble a capable staff that has the knowledge and experience necessary to rebuild HUD after years of neglect.
Rep. Fudge will be charged with implementing President-elect Joe Biden’s housing plan, which is the most ambitious housing proposal I’ve seen from any president in my lifetime. To be sure, many of the boldest provisions will require cooperation from a deeply divided Congress, but the new administration still can do a lot without Congressional approval, such as reversing rules to weaken fair housing protections and Housing First policies.
Here in Columbus, we’re hopeful the General Assembly fixes a lingering tax issue that threatens to increase taxes on permanent supportive housing properties before finishing up this session. If not, we’ll fight for it in 2021, along with increased funding for housing and homeless programs in the next biennial budget cycle, which starts in a few months.
None of this work is possible without support from people like you. We have been so zhumbled by how many stepped up to support both our advocacy and our efforts to deliver desperately needed funding and supplies to Ohioans navigating the dual crises of covid and homelessness. But we aren’t out of the woods yet. The pandemic-induced recession is driving an alarming increase in housing insecurity around the state. We still have much more work to do.
Thank you for helping us house Ohio,