Monday, April 12, 2021

COVID and the Homelessness Crisis

By Geoffrey K. McDonald Geoffrey

In the wake of the COVID pandemic, there is no doubt that the nation will face a crisis of evictions and foreclosures, similar to what was seen as a result of the 2008 financial collapse.  This, in turn, will lead to an increase in homelessness, which disproportionately impacts communities of color.  While moratoria on evictions and foreclosures are good and necessary, they cannot go on indefinitely, and they cannot solve the underlying crisis, which may result in tens of millions of people facing homelessness.   

There are several things that we, as a nation, must do to prepare for, and hopefully stem, the upcoming crisis.  One is to fund and support our Legal Aid and Legal Services organizations, which offer assistance -- through free legal representation -- in stopping evictions, foreclosures, in filing chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, and in obtaining public benefits.

At all levels of government, funds must be made available to assist tenants and homeowners in paying off rental and mortgage arrears to stay in their homes.  The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) was very successful in making it possible for individuals to stay in their homes by modifying their mortgages.  The New York State Mortgage Assistance Program (MAP) program provided 0% interest loans to homeowners at risk of foreclosure.  Programs similar to these are needed urgently today for homeowners and renters facing eviction or foreclosure.

The courts also have a role to play in creating conditions conducive to lessening the impact of this crisis by mandating settlement conferences in eviction, foreclosure, and bankruptcy cases, and encouraging parties to reach settlements, which will allow people to remain in their homes. 

As individuals, we can donate to Legal Aid, Legal Services and related organizations.  We can put pressure on our elected officials to fund these organizations as well as programs that provide direct grants and loans to homeowners and tenants at risk of eviction or foreclosure. 

Finally, we can be on the front lines by applying to work or volunteer for Legal Aid, Legal Services, and related organization as attorneys, paralegals, or other staff members.  There has been much lofty talk of late about building a more equitable future, on the other side of the pandemic.  If this is to be more than idle chatter, we must begin with the least well-off, including the homeless and those facing homelessness.

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