Today, Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02), alongside Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) and Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), introduced the COVID-19 Serving the Homeless by Expanding the List of Tenant Eligible Residences Act of 2020, or COVID-19 SHELTER Act of 2020. This bill aims to ensure that the federal government supports creative ways to shelter unsheltered individuals during and after the novel coronavirus outbreak.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are over 500,000 people in America experiencing homelessness on any given night. On top of this, there is a national shortage of over 7 million affordable housing units for extremely low-income individuals and families, resulting in 75% of those families paying more than half their income in rent. Recent safety guidance from San Francisco has suggested it is safer to sleep on the street than to congregate in often overcrowded shelters in order to avoid the potential spread of coronavirus.
“Before the COVID-19 crisis, the country faced a serious lack of affordable housing and far too many individuals sleeping on the streets and in shelters,” said Rep. Huffman. “America is facing an unprecedented crisis, with thousands of people losing their livelihoods and ability to support their families every day which will only serve to exacerbate the struggles to find affordable housing. There is a long road ahead before the county can get back on its feet, and it’s going to take ingenuity and hard work to make sure the most vulnerable populations are cared for. With the COVID-19 SHELTER Act, we can creatively house individuals experiencing homelessness and support them throughout the crisis and its aftermath.”
Specifically, the SHELTER Act would:
- Create an additional 200,000 Section 8 vouchers for families in need
- Create a disaster assistance voucher program with 500,000 vouchers available to individuals who were unsheltered at the time of the COVID-19 crisis for up two years with the ability for the HUD secretary to renew the vouchers if necessary
- Expand the list of eligible dwelling units currently under Section 8 to include hotels rooms, motel rooms, unrented Air BnBs, Junior Accessory Dwelling Units, and RVs
“This pandemic has brought to light the stark inequities in our society when it comes to access to health care and housing, and there are none harder hit than our constituents struggling with homelessness and housing insecurity. As the co-chair of the Congressional Homelessness Caucus, I am proud to lead the COVID-19 SHELTER Act with my colleagues Representatives Jared Huffman and Alcee L. Hastings,” said Congresswoman Johnson. “This bill will be a transformative effort to provide emergency housing for individuals during this pandemic. It is critical that we strive to expand homelessness prevention resources as part of our societal response to contain this coronavirus.”
“In addition to exposing pre-existing issues in our housing system, this pandemic has caused many families and workers in Florida and across our nation to face financial challenges, housing insecurity, and other hardships they could have never anticipated. We have a responsibility to address the housing shortages, shelter overcrowding, and other urgent issues this crisis has created for the organizations trying to keep up with the growing need for innovative housing solutions,” said Congressman Hastings. “As a Co-Chair of the Congressional Homelessness Caucus, I am proud to introduce the COVID-19 SHELTER Act with Representatives Jared Huffman and Eddie Bernice Johnson to address this need and provide shelter to our neighbors during this time of crisis.”
“The National Coalition for the Homeless applauds Representatives Huffman, Johnson, and Hastings for introducing legislation to provide flexible vouchers to those who were homeless when the COVID-19 emergency struck. Housing ends homelessness, and we will likely see large increases in households losing housing in the coming months. This effort will help scale up housing resources quickly, and with an understanding of each family’s unique needs,” said Megan Hustings, Managing Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Full text of the legislation can be found here.