November 18, 2021
Executive Director of Global Economics, S&P Global Market Intelligence
Former Senior Director of Research and Issue Networks, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The United States is currently undergoing a housing crisis that has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to present economic challenges. To help, many companies are stepping up to provide housing assistance, especially for vulnerable populations.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Business Solves conference, experts discussed how the housing crisis is impacting the American population, including children and teens, and what employers can do to help their employees and communities find more stable, affordable housing.
Lack of Stable Housing Effects Funding of Essentials
Stable housing is housing that is both affordable and safe to live in while leaving residents with enough money to pay for other essentials including healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how important housing is and that people will prioritize housing above other expenses, explained Eileen Fitzgerald, head of Housing Affordability Philanthropy at Wells Fargo.
“[People] understood how incredibly important it was to be housed,” she explained. “So they have food insecurity or are making choices to not have healthy food.”
“We hear about this lack of funds for healthcare and prescriptions, [which causes] an incredible amount of stress,” Fitzgerald continued. “And I think this is especially important, as employers, to think about [this] when someone's worried about losing their home. So if you're paying too much of your income for your rent or your mortgage, then you're not… saving at all. And if you have one crisis, it can create, essentially, homelessness.”
Children and Teens Need Support Through The Housing Crisis
Youths are also continuing to be affected by this housing crisis, with a growing number of children and teens now experiencing homelessness.
“The impacts of unstable housing on children and youth is well documented”, said Melissa MacDonnell, president of Liberty Mutual Foundation and VP at Liberty Mutual Insurance. “Our belief is that people need a sense of security in order to build their future. In fact, 50% of those who are chronically homeless today were homeless as a youth."
“It's a critical time of intervention and it is really hard to imagine what COVID has meant for a population of homeless youth who have relied on friends’ couches,” MacDonnell added.
That’s why Liberty Mutual donated $2.5 million to its partner Bridge Over Troubled Waters and helped fund the organization's Liberty House, explained MacDonnell.
“It's a co-op-style home for young people who would otherwise be homeless and are attending college or career training programs,” she added.
Employers Have a Crucial Role to Play in Stable Housing
Employers can assist their employees and communities going through the housing crisis by providing resources and easing misconceptions, said Fitzgerald.
“Proactively provide information on ... emergency rental homeownership assistance,” she explained. “Facilitate financial coaching or housing counseling for employees [and] dispel myths on homeownership. [Find out] how you [can] increase supply with your zoning reform, local trust funds, tax credit density, [and] bonuses. Make it known that having affordable housing … nearby is really critical for your organization.”
“Engage in roundtables that bring you in contact with people who are directly impacted,” added MacDonnell. “Your best insights will likely always come from those with lived experience who can really reflect on how existing services are working and where there are the biggest steps.”