Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow
Before there was COVID, there was a national epidemic of unaffordable housing – and it is still with us. If governments had not declared moratoriums, disruption of work and income for millions would have quickly proceeded to waves of eviction that would have increased exposure to, and spread of the virus.
But the evictions were only delayed, and for very short periods. They have had to be extended several times, with December 31 as the current end date. Meanwhile, unpaid rent grows, while incomes are reduced and emergency government grants and unemployment compensation are not available for our immigrant friends.
UIDN did not, and will not, solve this problem, but we did mobilize what resources we could to assist. From January through September 2020, we have provided more than $97,000 for rent and $12,000 in utilities payments to families that reached out to us for urgent help.
We also referred 65 families to Catholic Charities, which provided more than $62,000 in rent support. Episcopal Charities and United Way (through Family of Woodstock) were some of the additional partners in providing funds for housing support.
In October, requests have kept pace with previous months, and UIDN has helped 11 families, paying $7,483 in housing and utility costs so far. About half our referrals came from our partner Catholic Charities and half through our Helpline.
The Upstate-Downstate Housing Alliance initiated the Housing Justice for All campaign. UIDN is a member of the Ulster County Coalition for Housing Justice, which works with the Alliance.
Looking ahead, we expect that housing needs will grow as the demand falls for day laborers and other seasonal workers such as those in restaurants. Meanwhile the moratorium on evictions will be coming to an end and many families will have unmanageable housing debt. They may be forced to move in a tightening market; sometimes that means doubling up with another family.
The Next Chapter in Housing
UIDN volunteers, donors and grantors have done amazing work on behalf of housing assistance, but it clearly will not prevent the looming crisis. An unregulated housing market simply does not work as a method for meeting the shelter needs of a large segment of our low income population.
Renters with unaffordable levels of rent (more than 30% of median income) cannot keep up when their income is interrupted, and many of the small landlords who rent to them are also facing mortgage debt that cannot be met when rent is unpaid.
Meanwhile speculators and larger corporate landlords press forward to free up properties that can be sold or rented at higher prices to higher income families. This emerging gentrification of the housing market is actually an engine of displacement for people of color and of low income.
Because the emerging crisis is beyond the capacity of private charity to resolve, we need public action by governments which, after all, exist to address public needs. Earlier this year UIDN joined the Ulster County Coalition for Housing Justice to organize for needed actions and to mobilize public opinion and responsible public officials.
The Coalition is asking the City of Kingston to take emergency steps to prevent displacement and convert currently vacant properties into guaranteed affordable housing. That includes encouraging the Kingston City Land Bank to speed up the rehab of 35 foreclosed properties it has received from the City.
UIDN has given special support to the Coalition’s Know Your Rights campaign to help tenants withstand unwarranted pressures from landlords, and from housing inspectors, who have been reported to pressure tenants to leave “voluntarily” at the request of landlords.
Know Your Rights campaign material is based on information from the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. UIDN will help circulate 1,500 flyers in English and Spanish. Download the flyer in both languages by clicking the orange house on this page.