The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting most aspects of American life—and housing is no exception.
In July, 32% of U.S. households missed housing payments. With federal eviction moratoriums ending, the pandemic puts a great stress on Americans. One analysis from the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project found 20% of 110 million renters are at risk of eviction by September 30.
Organizations that address homelessness and the contributors of homelessness—such as income stabilization, job placement, education, and other social determinants of health—are more vital than ever before. One of these organizations is Community Rebuilders in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
For the last 25 years, the organization has made a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of individuals and families by working to ensure access to affordable housing in their community.
“We believe that homelessness is a solvable problem,” Vera Beech, Executive Director at Community Rebuilders said.
To Beech, the solution is straight forward: affordable housing. And Community Rebuilders has the numbers to back up its claim. In 2019, the organization was able to help 1,889 individuals exit homelessness and become stably housed.
“Most people only need a short amount of assistance after which they can remain in stable housing,” Beech said. “Most people don’t need long-term subsidies.”
Their work includes educating both landlords and tenants on rights and responsibilities. The organization’s model also centers on choice. When Community Rebuilders begins working with a client, they talk to them about where they want to live and their housing/neighborhood needs.
More recently, Community Rebuilders prioritized incorporating social determinants of health into their approach, recognizing that a person’s housing situation and their overall health and wellness are inextricably linked.
This work includes showing how areas like employment and food security affect stable housing.
“What we know is affordable housing challenges and structural deficiencies within our country result in individuals becoming homeless,” Beech said. “When people are at risk, it’s difficult for them to share in their community’s prosperity and growth.”
Beech knew that to grow the organization’s impact, Community Rebuilders would need to partner across sectors. To do this, Community Rebuilders started the Gather Resources and Align Community Efforts (GRACE Network) with Signify Health. Beech said they knew they needed to break data silos in order to share info and track health and housing outcomes on a long-term basis.
The network went live in November 2019. Currently, a total of 16 organizations — including social service and health organization— have joined the network with the goal of ending family homelessness.
But COVID-19 is no doubt ramping up uncertainty for stable housing. Beech has already seen some changes in benefit needs. For example, whereas individuals may have only needed three months of rent assistance in absence of the pandemic, now that number could be six months.
Though she is concerned for an uptick in homelessness, Beech reported that Community Rebuilders is leasing 8-10 new households on an average weekly basis in the pandemic.
“Housing is a basic human right,” Beech said. “Individuals will face challenges but when basic needs are met, their potential explodes.”
For more information on Community Rebuilders, visit their website.