CT sees an increase of 211 rental assistance requests this year

The rising cost of housing, coupled with inflation and other factors, has made it difficult for some families to pay their rent, forcing some to give up other necessities like food and health care in order to keep a roof over their heads.

More than 50,000 people have called the state’s 211 hotline so far this year, according to the 211 website. And the total number of requests for assistance has increased since last year.

For a consistent monthly solution, tenants often turn to housing vouchers, which remunerate part of the tenant’s rent each month. Many housing authorities have housing choice voucher programs – also known as the Section 8 program – but waiting lists are closed or leave needy tenants waiting for months.

Most waiting lists in Connecticut are closed. And even when they are open, families in Connecticut wait an average of 29 months for help, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report last year.

“To me, that’s the biggest indicator or symbol, really, of the aid shortage,” said Sean Ghio, director of policy for Partnership for Strong Communities. “Not only do we have these long waiting lists, but they would actually be much longer if they were open.”

And when families receive these vouchers, it is another obstacle to finding accommodation that accepts them.

“The ultimate tragedy in my mind is that sometimes people lose their voucher because they can’t find a house where the owner will accept it,” Ghio said. “Lack of support is a major problem, but being able to use the vouchers where you want is also a problem.”

The problem is exacerbated by an increased demand for rental housing.

“In a normal housing market, there aren’t enough housing bonds for very low and extremely low income households and that’s true for Connecticut,” Ghio said. “But Connecticut has the added burden of not allowing enough housing to be built, so our rents are going up for everyone.”

“It becomes unaffordable for people higher on the income scale,” Ghio continued. “Yes, we need more vouchers, but we also need to build a lot more housing.”

Increased need

Amy Casavina Hall, senior vice president of strategic partnerships, development and communications for United Way of Connecticut, said the 211 helpline has seen “an extraordinary increase in calls” lately.

The number of web and phone inquiries to 211 about all forms of housing assistance, including homelessness, housing assistance and landlord issues, increased by 50% from June 2021 to June 2022 and 38% from July 2021 to July 2022.

The 211 helpline can connect Nutmeggers to nearly 40,000 different programs to help with housing, healthcare, food insecurity, mental health services and more. As of August 29, 211 had received 259,580 calls and online inquiries for home and housing assistance this year. Some 51,135 of these calls were for housing assistance.

In July 2022, the hotline received 7,085 requests for housing assistance, approximately 20% of the total housing and accommodation requests online and by telephone. These requests for rental assistance not only include assistance with the monthly payment for an apartment or house, but also include mobile home land fees, motel rental deposits, homeless motel vouchers and other home-related payments and assistance.

“It’s shocking,” Casavina Hall said. And the big increase isn’t coming from people facing imminent homelessness, but rather from people who feel insecure about their homes and don’t know what’s going to happen next month, she said.

And despite the waning presence of COVID-19, United Way of Connecticut predicts more housing calls this year than last.

In 2021, 211 received 136,668 calls and 166,356 other online inquiries regarding housing – including shelters, low-cost housing, landlord and tenant issues, and more. Some 67,390 of these concerned housing assistance. United Way expects to receive 183,938 calls and another 234,678 online applications for housing in 2022.

Hall admits that the thousands of programs for families can be a bit of an overwhelming maze and families can feel lost. She often reminds these families that they are not alone.

But while 211 agents can guide residents through different programs, that doesn’t mean everyone got help. The availability of housing assistance programs varies depending on where people live. Some cities and towns contribute to rental assistance programs, which makes funds more available.

About 13% of the 7,085 requests for rental assistance in July 2022 were considered unmet, or “no assistance was available,” according to the 211 counts website. For the whole of 2021, some 9% of requests for rental assistance were also not met.

When dealing with requests for housing assistance, 211 agents try to address both emergency issues and lack of affordability holistically, which means helping families improve their lives. other aspects of their lives to facilitate the payment of rent. This could include covering a utility bill or seeking career development opportunities. When a person calls 211 saying they may not be able to pay rent that month, an agent helps develop a plan to avoid needing emergency shelter.

Some of these callers are then referred to the Salvation Army. On average, Debbie White, outreach coordinator for the Salvation Army’s New England Southern Division, said she sees about three residents a week in need of housing assistance. The Salvation Army also provides case management to offer sustainable holistic services, such as budget management, childcare assistance and other forms of support.

But sometimes the Salvation Army can’t help either, so they call another agency to try to get that person the help they need.

“As an agency, there’s not much we can do,” White said. “It’s a collaborative effort.”

A tight rental market

Demand for rental housing is also at an all-time high.

Alex Van De Minne, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Connecticut, said that’s partly down to an entire generation with a passion for leasing.

“Young people don’t want to stay in one position for long,” he said. “They want to be a bit more flexible.” Also, with high student debt, rental housing is the most accessible housing option.

In Connecticut in particular, there was another surge in demand as renters fled the city to more suburban areas at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But statewide rents have been rising since at least 2017, and wages haven’t kept up.

Across Connecticut, the fair market rent for a one-bedroom home was $1,172 and $1,446 per month for a two-bedroom home. For a renter to comfortably afford a one-bedroom apartment, they would need to earn at least $22.53 per hour and at least $27.80 to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to a report of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

This “omits a huge number of residents,” Ghio said.

Minimum-wage workers earning $14 an hour cannot comfortably afford an apartment, meaning they would spend more than 30% of their earnings on housing alone. And, according to the report, renters in Connecticut earn an average of $21.30 per hour, or about $44,300 per year.

A combination of a limited rental market—plus an even more limited supply of affordable units—and inflated costs have made rental affordability in Connecticut a rare sight.

“We are concerned that, according to housing and homeless providers across the state, Connecticut’s rental market is tighter than it has been in over a decade,” said said Carin Buckman, director of communications for United Way of Connecticut, in an email. “The stock of available rental housing is exceptionally low.

And when demand is high and supply is low, landlords raise the rent.

In the past 12 months, landlords have raised rent by at least $100 for 396,400 people in Connecticut. Some 65,700 of them saw their rent go up by $250 or more, according to the US Census Bureau’s August 8 Household Pulse Survey.

More housing options

When rent goes up, already struggling families sometimes sacrifice meals or health care to keep a roof over their heads.

“People are doing whatever they can to figure out how to pay their rent,” Casavina Hall said. “They give up a lot of other necessary things to keep a roof over their heads.”

But even then, tenants are left behind and risk being evicted.

For the week of July 27 to August 8, one in five tenants said they weren’t caught up in rent payments. Some 62,000 households who said they were behind on rent said they were very or somewhat likely to be evicted from their homes due to eviction, the survey showed.

Building more housing could reduce the need for assistance and voucher schemes, but Van De Minne said most of the time local people don’t want new rental housing. It’s a NIMBY scenario – or “not in my backyard”. There is generally a stigma against high-density rental housing that attracts a predominantly young population, which increases traffic and crime in the area, he said.

“They don’t want to have these tenants in their own town,” Van De Minne said. “They’re going to vote against it.”

In addition to building more housing, Ghio said some housing advocates have pushed to make housing vouchers as available as food stamps for eligible families.

But the good guys don’t have to be the alpha and omega.

Ghio said families could get extra help with other necessities like childcare, healthcare and food to make it easier to pay rent and, more importantly, provide stability. .

Anyone in need of housing assistance or other support can call 211 or visit www.211CT.org.

Residents can also contact the Salvation Army by calling 860-702-0000.

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