WASHINGTON (Gray DC) – They are some of the poorest families in the country, and they are at high risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. About half of Americans living in public housing are seniors and people with disabilities.
Now, $685 million in coronavirus relief funds is heading to public housing authorities across the country. The money comes from the CARES Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump a month ago.
The money can be used for things like medical supplies, child care and rent.
“We want to alleviate some of the difficulty,” said Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Dr. Ben Carson.
Carson, who is also a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said, in rural areas, the funding could help some residents with technology and internet upgrades. They could also receive travel money for coronavirus treatment and testing.
He told us his agency is giving public housing authorities (PHA) more power than usual, allowing them to decide how to spend the relief money locally.
“We really have done something a little unprecedented in that not only are we making funding available, but we are providing a certain amount of discretion on behalf of the PHAs so that they don’t have to come to us every time they want to do something for one of the residents,” said Carson.
Deborah Thrope with the National Housing Law Project is an advocate for policies that protect public housing residents. She thinks local housing authorities need more guidance from the federal government.
“For the most part, HUD has really punted this authority that was granted in the CARES Act to local housing authorities, and we would love to see HUD step up and provide some directives to the authorities with respect to some policies that would most protect residents,” Thrope said.
The CARES Act also temporarily prevents landlords from evicting public housing residents who can't pay their rent.
But Throrpe is concerned about what happens after that grace period ends.
She is encouraging housing authorities to prioritize the use of relief funds for rent assistance.
“Because it’s imperative right now that we house as many people as possible. Both [to] help them maintain their housing, but also obtain housing if they are out on the street looking,” Thrope said.
About 3,000 public housing authorities across the country will receive relief funds. HUD says they’re making the money available now. You can find the full list here.