I don’t want to be an alarmist, but if Congress doesn’t act before their August recess to provide emergency rent relief and reinstate the eviction moratorium, Wyoming could be approaching 35,000 more homeless people in the state by the end of September.
The U.S. Census counts 280,291 housing units in the state. Of those, 69.4% report as owner occupied, or 194,522 housing units.
We counted only 230,630 households in the state (Are there really that many vacant housing units?), which means we must have 36,108 rental units occupied: 230,630 households minus 194,522 owner occupied households. To allow for things like base housing, let’s call it 35,000, which could still be high, but let’s use that number.
The July 15 U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey tells us that 44% of Wyoming rental households are facing rental shortfall and the possibility of eviction by the end of September. That means 15,400 households, 44% of 35,000.
The Census also tells us that the average household in Wyoming is 2.5 people. Multiply 15,400 by 2.5, and we are looking at 38,500 people homeless by the end of September. I acknowledge that the figure is probably high, which is why I estimated 35,000 at the start. Either figure gives insight into the scale of the problem.
Median gross rent in Wyoming was $843 as of 2018. One local nonprofit providing homeless aid tells us it costs them $1,500 per month or more per family to provide assistance. Turning people out of their homes, onto the streets and into the care of charitable organizations is no way to save money!
That is just renters. I have no figures to tell me how many homeowners are facing mortgage arrears and the threat of eviction.
People without homes are obviously more susceptible to COVID-19 and other diseases – and more likely to spread them. Which part of our towns should they camp in? Where will they bathe or use the toilet? Which school do homeless children attend? Will they have access to online school if we end up there again this school year? Or will these vulnerable children be the ones to bring COVID-19 to the school?
Landlords have bills to pay, too. Maybe they have a mortgage of their own on the rental property and stand to lose their investment. Do you remember bailing out banks when people couldn’t pay their mortgages in 2008? Of course, bank bailouts don’t give families a place to live.
How much easier and cheaper just to keep people in their homes! The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that we can do that nationally for $16 billion a month – $100 billion for the next several months.
I could write more, encouraging a 15% increase in SNAP benefits to help struggling, unemployed or underemployed families, for example. But, for now, I am just asking you to call Sens. Barrasso and Enzi and Rep. Cheney and urge them to speak to their leadership and the negotiators at work on COVID-19 relief funding. Tell them $100 billion in emergency rental relief and an eviction moratorium are needed immediately, and that Wyoming will make good use of its share.
If the economy springs back, and we don’t need to spend it all, wonderful! But if we need it and it isn’t there, we are condemning ourselves to another plague – a plague of homelessness.