Enrollment at public and charter schools has dropped by 50,000 students so far this school year.
Talk to any Title I school principal, and you will likely hear about the challenges of keeping students enrolled and engaged when so many families are coping with loss of jobs, or parents are trying to work from home while supervising students doing online school.
Add to that the pressures of accumulating bills and rent or mortgage payments plus the health concerns that accompany a global pandemic, and it may seem things can’t get any worse.
Wrong. Things are about to get much worse.
The recently passed economic relief bill may have staved off evictions for now; however, at some point, the moratorium on evictions will end, and we will be dealing with what some are calling an “eviction cliff.”
Thousands of Arizonans will be forced to trade the comfort of home for a relative’s couch, the backseat of their car, a temporary homeless shelter or our neighborhood streets.
Hundreds of thousands could be evicted
As of January 2019, more than 10,000 people in Arizona were experiencing homelessness on any given day.
An analysis by the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project shows that an additional 440,000 to 771,000 individuals in Arizona are at risk of eviction. And while the adverse impact of COVID-19 on education and health are very real, the impact of homelessness on education and health are expected to be catastrophic.
Over the past several years, the link between housing and health has become abundantly clear – so much so that health insurance companies such as United Healthcare have invested millions of dollars into the development of affordable housing. They see that stable housing results in positive health outcomes and the investments actually save them money.
Education, too, correlates directly with stable housing. Imagine trying to log into class from a temporary shelter or prioritize studying when your life is in turmoil. It’s a near impossibility.
We need funding for affordable units
Rendering of Heritage at Surprise, an affordable housing complex.
In Arizona, we are fortunate to have a number of nonprofits who specialize in building and operating affordable housing units for low-income renters — Chicanos por la Causa, Native American Connections, Catholic Charities, Foundations for Senior Living, UMOM New Day Centers, Save the Family and Arizona Housing Inc., among them.
These services help address chronic physical and behavioral health problems and provide access to food, employment assistance and other assistance that results in increased independence and self-sufficiency.
However, these apartments are full, and thousands are on waiting lists to get into these properties that cost around $500-$700 per month. Rent for market rate apartments has risen to more than $1,200 a month in the Phoenix metro market.
Arizona needs more affordable housing units, and we need them now. The missing piece is the funding to make this happen.
The Arizona Housing Fund was established last year as a way for companies and individuals to directly contribute equity funding to build affordable housing throughout the state. The fund is housed at the Arizona Community Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in Arizona, and 100% of every donation goes to the fund.
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So far, the Arizona Housing Fund has reached more than $350,000 in donations – from corporate gifts, family foundation endowments and the escrow donation program. The escrow donation program is a voluntary private effort where homebuilders and real estate agents ask homebuyers and sellers to donate $25 or more when a home is sold. This donation is often matched by homebuilders like Meritage Homes, real estate brokerages, and escrow and title agencies.
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However, this philanthropic effort could be so much bigger if we all get involved. We know that having a home is a fundamental necessity in life, and without it, health, education and employment all suffer.
For those wanting to prevent our state from the staggering homelessness epidemic now seen in cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles, we invite you to visit arizonahousingfund.org and get involved.
Together we can lay the foundation for a stable future for our state’s vulnerable men, women and children.
Howard Epstein is founder of the Arizona Housing Fund. Steve Hilton is chairman and CEO of Meritage Homes. Reach them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
AUTHOR: Howard Epstein and Steve Hilton