Part 1: Housing, Economic, and Food Security

Apr 07, 2020

This is the first article in a three part blog series by Mendi Blue-Paca, Chief Community Impact Officer at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation 

The COVID-19 global pandemic has created unprecedented immediate and anticipated long-term challenges for nonprofit and community-based organizations and Fairfield County residents. No sector within the nonprofit community is immune from operational and economic hardships, although frontline, direct service providers are acutely impacted. No individual is immune from the threat of the virus, although some populations are uniquely vulnerable and the organizations that serve them need added supports.

The community needs and challenges summarized in this series have been identified through conversations between Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Community Impact Team and numerous nonprofit staff, community leaders, and residents in Fairfield County’s diverse cities and towns. The challenges are dynamic and therefore represent a point-in-time assessment of what is being experienced during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responses from philanthropy and local, state and federal government to address these challenges are similarly dynamic. As such, we anticipate that needs will evolve over time and community priorities will shift, particularly once we transition from response to recovery.

Based on what we have learned, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is focused on meeting and addressing the needs and challenges captured below, with a particular emphasis on 1) housing, economic and food security; 2) education and children and youth services; and 3) mental and physical health.

In part one of this three part series below, we look at the impact on housing, economic, and food security.

Click here to learn more and donate to the Fairfield County COVID-19 Resiliency Fund. Nonprofit & community organizations can find additional resources on the Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Nonprofit Resources webpage. And for FCCF’s weekly COVID-19 Response updates, click here. 

Housing, Economic, and Food Security

Unemployment and Loss of Work Hours: Unprecedented job loss or reduced work, particularly for hourly workers, has resulted in many being unable to meet basic needs like paying rent or buying food. Nonprofits (NPOs) consistently raise this as a key concern and many have established or anticipate establishing emergency cash funds. Though some relief will be provided by federal stimulus checks and more expansive unemployment insurance options, individual financial needs are still significant. There is currently a five-week backlog in processing unemployment claims in Connecticut.

Need for Additional Counseling Supports for Homeowners and Renters: Lenders are being mandated to hold off on foreclosures. Borrowers are being encouraged to exercise loan forbearance to keep their accounts from becoming delinquent. In Connecticut, banks have granted a three-month suspension of mortgage payments for struggling homeowners (mortgage relief disproportionately benefits residents in Connecticut’s more affluent communities where there are more homeowners). However, it is up to the borrower to contact their lender and fill out the appropriate forms and provide necessary documentation. Therefore, there is a projected spike in the need for loss mitigation counseling. Renters have a grace period to pay rent until April 10th. Landlords, including Public Housing Authorities (PHAs), are still issuing notices to quit, but they are not being processed by the courts at this time. (The Department of Housing and Urban Development is recommending that PHAs put this process on hold.) Nevertheless, renters are still legally required to pay rent and can face eviction when courts reopen.

Food Security and Service Delivery Challenges: The need for food has been widely cited. As of early April, the Connecticut Department of Social Services experienced a tripling in the number of food stamp applications.*  Food pantries have had to adjust their service delivery models to comply with Center for Disease Control (CDC) social distancing recommendations, which has resulted in increased program costs. Some organizations are delivering free food boxes to families. NPO food distributors are also experiencing program delivery constraints due to a lack of volunteers. The food security landscape is fragmented among many different organizations and types of providers. To date, we have seen a lot of philanthropic support flow to a small concentration of large food banks.

Homeless at High Risk: The homeless population is particularly vulnerable. Shelters are introducing social distancing, which is resulting in reduced bed capacity. Additionally, as libraries, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. are closed, many people who are homeless have nowhere to go indoors during the day or night. Those who have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19 need places to isolate. The first grant from the Fairfield County COVID-19 Resiliency Fund was directed to purchase emergency motel rooms for this highly vulnerable population. This is not however a permanent solution.

Risks of Crowded Housing: Vulnerable and low-income groups – and particularly immigrants – often live in crowded housing. Numerous examples of large or multiple immigrant families living in one or two-bedroom apartments have been cited. These over-crowded housing environments are ripe for spreading COVID-19.

*CT Mirror:

Click here to read part 2: Education, Children, and Youth Services

Click here to read part 3: Mental and Physical Health, Domestic Violence, and Other Key Issues

Mendi Blue-Paca
Chief Community Impact Officer
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation