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In cities, towns, and counties across the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic downturn are precipitating a housing crisis of historic proportions. To assist localities in responding to this challenge, this page provides resources and a framework for developing COVID-19 Housing Response Plans. These materials are intended to help local leaders take a strategic approach to addressing their short-, medium- and long-term housing challenges, providing content that addresses some of the most common questions surrounding response plans to the pandemic.

Learn

This section describes the likely effects of COVID-19 on housing markets and policy and provides an overview of how localities can address the housing challenges posed by the pandemic and the associated economic crisis.

What are the housing-related effects of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all 50 states, causing thousands of deaths, hospitalizations, and a loss of economic security for a large share of Americans due to lost jobs and income. As a result, an increasing number of households are struggling to afford their mortgage and rent payments, while others face eviction and even homelessness – all of which add to the mental and physical stress caused by this pandemic. The crisis is also disrupting the production of new housing and jeopardizing the safety of individuals and families experiencing homelessness and the people who work with them. A number of papers have outlined the potential housing implications of COVID-19, including these two from members of the Local Housing Solutions team.

How does COVID-19 affect homeless service provision?

People experiencing homelessness often have a higher risk for exposure to communicable diseases, and are likely at a higher risk of infection from COVID-19. In addition, people experiencing homelessness often have less access to health care systems and treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed recommendations for homeless service providers about how to protect their staff, clients, and guests. The Before, During, and After sections of this guidance offer suggested strategies to help homeless service providers plan, prepare, and respond to this emerging public health threat. This Local Housing Solutions brief discusses how to take a strategic approach to meeting the COVID-19-related needs of individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

What is the role of localities in addressing the effects of COVID-19 on housing stability and housing markets?

While federal and state funding is critical for addressing COVID-19’s negative housing impacts, local governments are on the front lines of the pandemic and play a critical role in shaping the local policy response. In addition to implementing many federal and state programs, local governments have a deep understanding of local needs and housing market conditions, and tools at their disposal to shape medium- and long-term recovery. Local governments are thus uniquely positioned to weave together different funding sources and policies into a comprehensive and balanced COVID-19 Housing Response Plan.

Additional resources

Plan

A comprehensive and balanced local COVID-19 Housing Response Plan provides a guiding framework for cities, towns, and counties to identify and coordinate the many policy tools and stakeholders that will be required to address the immediate, medium- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic crisis. While each community will structure these activities in different ways depending on the local context and extent of their COVID-19 outbreak, the discussion below provides big-picture guidance on how to approach the process of developing a COVID-19 Housing Response Plan. This text below provides an overview of the process of developing a COVID-19 Housing Response Plan. For more detailed guidance, see our brief on Developing a COVID-19 Housing Response Plan.

What can cities, towns, and counties do?

In addition to implementing federal and state programs, local governments have unique tools at their disposal that other levels of government do not. Local governments are thus well positioned to weave together different funding sources and regulations into a comprehensive and balanced local COVID-19 Housing Response Plan. There is no one housing response plan that is right for every jurisdiction Responses will vary based on the level of impact that the virus spread has on a community, local economic and housing conditions, resources, and the political environment. A robust local COVID-19 Housing Response Plan coordinates the actions of the numerous local government agencies and divisions that administer policies and programs affecting housing, public health, and economic development. As is the case with local housing strategies more generally, the best COVID-19 Housing Response Plans utilize the full set of tools that local governments have at their disposal and engage the private and nonprofit sectors as key partners.

What should localities do to develop a COVID-19 housing response plan?

To develop a COVID-19 Housing Response Plan, localities should:
  • Analyze the potential threats to the jurisdiction’s housing and rental markets
  • Pay attention to the needs of all households, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable populations, including persons experiencing homelessness, low-income renters, older adults, persons with disabilities, and immigrant communities
  • Define the objectives and outcomes the jurisdiction hopes to achieve through the response plan
  • Develop a comprehensive and balanced approach to meeting those objectives using the full resources available to local agencies in the community
  • Develop a plan for implementing the recommended approaches
  • Establish a way to track and monitor progress, as well as uncover shortfalls

What factors should be considered when designing COVID-19 policy responses?

Policymakers must focus both on providing immediate housing assistance for people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity and addressing the medium- and long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on housing stability and markets. Important policy objectives include:
  • Maintaining housing stability for renters and homeowners
  • Maintaining housing quality and safety
  • Preventing housing discrimination and promoting inclusivity
  • Preserving the solvency of multifamily owners, managers, and developers
  • Ensuring the safety of individuals and families experiencing homelessness and the people who work with them
  • Ensuring the health and safety of children, adults, seniors, and individuals experiencing homelessness
  • Ensuring all policy interventions are equitable, sustainable, and feasible
For a more complete discussion of the factors to consider in developing a COVID-19 housing policy response, see our brief on Developing a COVID-19 Housing Response Plan.

How long of a time horizon should response plans cover?

It is unknown how long the pandemic will last, but the longer it lasts, the more robust the policy responses that will be required. Even after the pandemic and immediate economic crisis has abated, there are likely to be lingering economic and housing consequences for years to come. We recommend that localities plan now for three phases of response to the pandemic, which are discussed in more detail in this brief:
  • CRISIS RESPONSE: implement policies to respond to the immediate crisis (short-term)
  • STABILIZATION: help stabilize the housing situations of residents and multifamily properties (medium-term)
  • RECOVERY: restore the long-term ability of individuals, families, and housing providers to achieve their housing goals (long-term)
Future Phases As the immediate crisis recedes, localities should consider adding a fourth phase to their COVID-19 Housing Response Plans focused on helping individuals, families, and communities become more resilient to future housing shocks. Finally, as the COVID-19 crisis moves more clearly into the rear-view mirror, cities will want to re-examine their broader housing strategies in light of the “new normal” established by the post-COVID-19 housing situation to develop new comprehensive local housing strategies.

How can communities address the disparate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on different neighborhoods and populations?

In developing their COVID-19 Housing Response Plans, cities, towns, and counties should consider and address disparities across neighborhoods and among people of different income levels, abilities, race, and ethnicity. Close attention to these disparities can help identify areas or populations with a particularly high level of need and/or distinct challenges and inform a more inclusive recovery. Without applying an explicit equity lens to a local Housing Response Plan, policy interventions may perpetuate or exacerbate existing inequities for people of color, low-income individuals, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable and marginalized groups. Resources on addressing the disparate impacts include: Examples in action:

Examples of local COVID-19 responses

Seattle-King County’s Health Care for the Homeless network are at the epicenter of the US outbreak and are rapidly and continuously producing guidance for service providers. Their website includes a variety of useful resources illustrating their planning and response strategy, including a COVID-19 Preparedness Planning Guide, Interim Guidance on COVID-19 for Homeless Service Providers, Response Assessments, Sanitation and Hygiene Guides, and more.

Additional resources

See also: While originally intended for developing affordable housing strategies, the following LHS resources provide useful information that can also be applied to housing responses.

Analyze

The analysis of readily-available data can provide important insights into the extent of your local housing needs. Data can help you: 1) make the case for developing your response plan, 2) determine what objectives you want the plan to pursue, and 3) guide how you can most effectively allocate your dollar and human resources in conjunction with information on the costs and benefits.

COVID-19 trends to be aware of

To develop and maintain a strong COVID-19 housing response plan, it is important for housing policymakers and practitioners to track evolving indicators of disease transmission and its economic impacts. Given the immediacy of the pandemic, every day brings new facts. Many changes to a community’s housing policy response are driven by overall economic conditions and actions by other levels of government, which may be well beyond the control or direction of individual localities. Yet with a thorough understanding of available metrics and data, localities can take prompt and precise action in the areas it can control, as well as inform state or federal policy agendas. This brief outlines valuable sources of information for setting or adjusting local housing priorities, identifying policies best suited to local economic and housing conditions, and undertaking mid-course corrections. It highlights data that can help localities understand both what is happening at the community level, as well as potential changes in federal, state, and local government regulations, programs, and funding levels. Read the full brief: Analyzing and Monitoring Data to Inform Your COVID Housing Response Plan Furthermore, The National League of Cities also published a helpful article on Housing Market Indicators to watch.

Sources of publicly-available COVID-19 data

Finally, the Local Housing Solutions brief on Analyzing and Monitoring Data to Inform Your COVID Housing Response Plan contains dozens of publicly-available data sources organized by crisis recovery phase.

Identifying and analyzing disparate impacts

In developing their COVID-19 Housing Response Plans, cities, towns, and counties should consider and address disparities across neighborhoods and among people of different income levels, abilities, race, and ethnicity. Close attention to these disparities can help identify areas or populations with a particularly high level of need and/or distinct challenges and inform a more inclusive recovery. Some indicators to pay attention to:
  • Disparities among those who experience homelessness in shelters and on the street
  • Disparities among those who experience household hardship: mortgage foreclosures, tax delinquency, and foreclosures; rental turnover, evictions
  • Disparities among those who experience hospitalizations and death per capita

Act

It is helpful to consider three initial phases of response to the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic crisis: Crisis Response (short-term), Stabilization (medium-term), and Recovery (long-term).
  • CRISIS RESPONSE: implement policies to respond to the immediate crisis (short-term)
  • STABILIZATION: help stabilize the housing situations of residents and multifamily properties (medium-term)
  • RECOVERY: restore the long-term ability of individuals, families, and housing providers to achieve their housing goals (long-term)
To assist localities in anticipating the full range of possible implications, this white paper provides an overview of the potential implications of COVID-19 for U.S. housing policy.

CRISIS RESPONSE policy interventions

Most immediately, local officials face the daunting tasks of helping individuals and families experiencing homelessness to stay safe during the pandemic and preventing evictions and foreclosures due to loss of income.  Other immediate challenges involve adapting to social distancing in administering government subsidy programs like public housing and Housing Choice Voucher program and addressing disruptions in housing production and preservation programs. The following are some of the key policy objectives to consider for the CRISIS RESPONSE phase: Homelessness
  • Ensure all sheltered individuals and families experiencing homelessness have access to a safe shelter in which social distancing is possible and practiced Examples in action:  New Orleans | Boston
  • Ensure policies are in place for dealing with outbreaks at homeless shelters Examples in actionSeattle | Los Angeles
  • Ensure on-the-street individuals experiencing homelessness have access to the facilities needed to maintain adequate hygiene Examples in action: Austin | Atlanta | Philadelphia
  • Ensure individuals and families experiencing homelessness have access to medical care Examples in action: Boston | Las Vegas | Dallas | Detroit | Private-sector innovation
  • Develop policies for handling the discharge of individuals experiencing homelessness from the hospital Examples in action: Texas CoC | California
  • Ensure the safety of individuals who work with persons experiencing homelessness
Rental housing Homeownership Other

STABILIZATION policy interventions

The process of helping to stabilize residents and multifamily properties begins once the immediate threats posed by COVID-19 recede.  Eventually, shelter-in-place orders will end and large numbers of people will return to work.  At the same time, hundreds of thousands (and potentially millions) of people are likely to remain unemployed or underemployed and to struggle paying their rent or mortgage.  While rents may fall due to reductions in renter income, they generally cannot drop to the level that the lowest income people can afford, leading to rising unaffordability.  Local governments will not be able to maintain eviction moratoria indefinitely.  New solutions will be needed – particularly long-term rental assistance and longer-term mortgage forbearance – along with expanded eviction and foreclosure prevention programs. The following are some medium-term policy objectives to consider during the STABILIZATION phase:
  • Provide rental assistance to help struggling renters when eviction moratoria expire. The NLIHC released a Research NoteEmergency Rental Assistance Programs in Response to COVID-19, that provides a descriptive analysis of over 440 rental assistance programs created or expanded in response to COVID-19. The analysis provides insight into how programs are funded, designed, and implemented.
  • Help struggling homeowners avoid mortgage and tax foreclosure when the initial period of mortgage forbearance runs out Examples in action: Rochester | Philadelphia
  • Help owners of multifamily properties meet their operating expenses and debt service in the face of declining rent revenue Examples in action: Arizona
  • Help small developers (both nonprofit and for-profit) remain in business to preserve development capacity
  • Monitor maintenance issues in rental housing to ensure housing quality is maintained

RECOVERY policy interventions

Even after the economy has recovered and the jobless rate has declined substantially, there will still be lingering challenges associated with the COVID-19 downturn.  For example, to the extent that people spend down their savings trying to stay afloat during the economic downturn, they will have less money available to manage unexpected financial emergencies, purchase homes, or fund their retirements.  It’s likely that many individuals will also experience impaired credit and high debt levels and borrowing costs due to an inability to pay bills during the economic crisis.  Some small builders and nonprofit developers may go out of business as a result of the economic slowdown, leading in some areas to long-term reductions in the supply of housing that ultimately foster higher rents and home prices.  Over the long term, solutions will be needed to restore the ability of individuals, families, and housing providers to achieve their housing goals.  Cities, towns, and counties will also need to analyze how things have changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn to refocus and revitalize their housing policy for the future. The following are some long-term policy objectives to consider during the RECOVERY phase: Assist struggling renters and owners
  • Help renters with impaired credit and limited savings to improve their credit scores and pay for the security deposits needed to move into new rental homes
  • Help renters with limited funds for a downpayment and impaired credit to purchase homes Examples in action: Philadelphia
  • Provide financial coaching and other assistance to help individuals improve their credit and pay down debt Examples in action: Philadelphia
  • Provide education and counseling to individuals whose retirement savings have declined
Ensure an adequate supply of housing
  • In high-cost regions and other places where housing supply has historically fallen short of demand, work with developers and advocates to identify steps for jumpstarting housing development once social distancing rules are relaxed, including reductions in regulatory barriers
  • Assess the capacity of developers within the jurisdiction to meet production and rehabilitation needs and, if necessary, develop policies and support to expand this capacity
Adjust to changing circumstances
  • If property values decline, acquire well-located properties for use as affordable housing
  • Work to root out any new forms of discrimination that emerge during and after the COVID-19 crisis
  • Assess whether the COVID-19 crisis has affected residential patterns (e.g., are young people moving into cities at the same rate as before the crisis?) to determine if adjustments are needed to existing policies

Policy responses for future phases

As the immediate crisis recedes, localities should consider adding a fourth phase to their COVID-19 Housing Response Plans focused on helping individuals, families, and communities become more resilient to future housing shocks. Finally, as the COVID-19 crisis moves more clearly into the rear-view mirror, cities will want to re-examine their broader housing strategies in light of the “new normal” established by the post-COVID-19 housing situation to develop new comprehensive local housing strategies.

Additional resources

Examples of state and local responses

How to use this table
  • To view a larger version of this table, click “View larger version” on the bottom-left of the table.
  • To select a state, filter by “state” and select your state(s) of interest.
  • To select a city, filter by “city” and search for “contains” or “is” to find the city.
  • To view only Housing policy responses, filter by Policy Area, select “has any of” and then select your topic(s) of interest.
  • To examine an action, hover over the action and click the blue expand arrow.

Eviction moratoria

Eviction Lab has compiled an exhaustive list of national, state, and local eviction moratoria.

Fund

This section breaks down the various national stimulus packages and identifies possible funding sources for housing.

Federal funding assistance

Click on the links below to read an LHS brief on each of the following federal laws enacted to address the economic effects of COVID-19:
  • H.R. 748 “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (“CARES Act”) View summary.
  • H.R. 6074 Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020. View summary.
  • H.R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act. View summary.

Other ways to fund a COVID-19 housing response

There are several things local stakeholders can do to free-up funding to ensure housing and economic stability in their communities: Use existing grants and sources of revenue to address the crisis, such as: Localities can also tap into local funding opportunities from philanthropic organizations. LISC has curated a list of funders organized by states that are now accepting – or soon will accept – applications from nonprofit organizations, businesses, and workers who need more support in this time of crisis. Drexel University recently published a whitepaper on Emergency Fund typologies that can be utilized at the local level. Local Housing Solutions has also put together a resource on the different ways to fund homelessness responses. Finally, our Fund section identifies possible funding sources for affordable housing, and describes the critical role that locally-generated revenue plays in supplementing federal resources.

Additional resources

NLIHC, the National Housing Law Project, and the National Immigration Law Center released a new FAQ regarding eligibility based on immigration status for CARES Act assistance.

Refine

In developing a comprehensive local housing response plan, jurisdictions will need to make a range of important policy decisions. Some of these decisions will involve difficult choices about how to allocate limited resources. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to any of these issues, the briefs listed below can help policymakers and stakeholders craft an appropriate solution for their community by providing guidance on how to approach making these difficult judgments.

Allocating resources between tenant-based and project-based rental assistance

A discussion of scenarios in which it may be preferable to structure rental assistance as a tenant-based subsidy, which provides greater flexibility, or as project-based assistance, which helps to guarantee the availability of affordable units in specific locations. Learn more about allocating resources between tenant-based and project-based rental assistance. In addition, the NLIHC released a Research NoteEmergency Rental Assistance Programs in Response to COVID-19, that provides a descriptive analysis of over 440 rental assistance programs created or expanded in response to COVID-19. The analysis provides insight into how programs are funded, designed, and implemented.

Allocating resources to address housing needs among older adults and families with children

A discussion of the factors that local jurisdictions may wish to consider when determining how to allocate spending on housing for different populations. Learn more about allocating resources to address housing needs among older adults and families with children.

Setting income eligibility levels for local housing programs

Guidance on how to determine the income eligibility levels for local housing assistance programs and policies. Learn more about setting income eligibility levels for local housing programs.

Bridge

Housing and neighborhood conditions shape outcomes across a variety of domains. Materials in this section describe some of these connections, and help to make the case for broadening the coalition of support for initiatives that increase housing stability during this time of crisis.

Housing and health

There are several aspects of housing that influence health: housing affordability, stability, quality and neighborhood conditions. Read more about health and housing. Housing Quality Although housing quality has generally risen over the past few decades, many households, especially low income households, continue to live in homes that are in very poor condition. As families are encouraged to shelter in place, the physical condition of housing plays an increasingly important role in our overall health and well-being. Housing officials should consider offering or supporting training resources and programs for housing managers to help them effectively address both building sanitation and maintenance. Housing officials might also incentivize management practices that can enhance health, such as reducing exposure to pests like mice and cockroaches, which are associated with asthma attacks. Affordability Research shows that severely cost-burdened renters spend less each month on food and healthcare than do other renters with similar incomes that are not cost-burdened. Additionally, low-income households that face higher heating costs, typically because of colder than expected weather, spend less on food. It follows that affordable housing may improve health outcomes by increasing disposable income and freeing up resources for nutritious food, health care, and other critical expenditures that improve health. During this time of economic uncertainty, many families are feeling particularly financially unstable. By helping individuals and families to afford their housing costs, government programs can increase the money low-income families have to spend on food, health, and other needs. Stability Even during this time of social isolation, evictions and unplanned moves can tear people away from important social supports. Stable housing also protects people from the stress that can undermine both physical and mental health. Furthermore, frequent moves make it more difficult for individuals to maintain a stable relationship with a healthcare provider, which can be especially critical for older adults and those with chronic health conditions. To help maintain residential stability during the COVID-19 crisis, there is a pressing need for programs that help residents make their rent and mortgage payments and help them avoid eviction and foreclosure. Examples of eviction prevention efforts include Massachusetts’ Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program and New York City’s provision of free legal assistance for renters facing eviction.

Why housing matters

Overview of the many ways in which investments in quality housing can enhance both local economic development and the health and well-being of individual residents, and steps that housing policymakers can take to further these broader objectives. Learn more about why housing matters.

Resources on building public support

List of selected publications, organizations, and initiatives focused on public opinion research and messaging on affordable housing and housing subsidy programs, including brief descriptions and links. Learn more about building public support.

Additional resources

In its latest paper, the Center for Community Investment discusses the economic effects of the pandemic, the disruptions it will cause for healthcare organizations and resulting implications for their housing investments, how these disruptions will affect children, and the local opportunities and challenges this sequence of events may generate for affordable housing partnerships.

LHS COVID-19 Housing Response Briefs

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