TUCSON — Homelessness in Arizona could increase as much as 29% in the wake of COVID-19, predicts a new report by researchers in the University of Arizona’s Southwest Institute for Research on Women.
The report, titled “Forecasting Homelessness in Arizona During the COVID-19 Crisis,” was written by Keith Bentele, an associate research professor in the institute, and Claudia Powell, the institute’s associate director. Powell is also chair of the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness board of directors.
The researchers constructed a model estimating the associations between state-level economic factors and year-to-year changes in state-level homelessness rates from 2007 to 2018. The model was used to project the likely increases in the rate of homelessness resulting from different potential levels of unemployment.
In June 2020, the unemployment rate in Arizona was approximately 10%. Bentele said real-time economic data suggests that a resurgence of economic activity since states began reopening reversed in July in hotspot states like Arizona. If the state unemployment rate hits 15% amid the pandemic, the researchers project a 16% increase in the rate of homelessness. At an unemployment rate of 20%, the rate of homelessness is expected to increase by 29%.
The researchers said Arizona is facing a crisis as the weekly $600 emergency expansion of unemployment insurance expired at the end of July. Benefits in Arizona will revert to their prior levels of $117 to $240 a week unless state lawmakers or Congress act to bolster the benefit levels.
The COVID-19-related eviction moratorium, which was set to expire at the end of July, has been extended by Gov. Doug Ducey until Oct. 31. Bentele noted that the moratorium only applies to situations that can be documented as a result of a COVID-19-related hardship and that evictions in Pima County for June and July have tripled relative to prior years under the current moratorium.
“The recent extension of the pandemic-related eviction moratorium is a good start, but this only kicks the can down the road,” Bentele said. “With this extra time, we should invest substantially in a wide range of supports and polices to both keep struggling Arizonans in their homes and to give people experiencing homelessness a safe place to live.”
The report provides policy recommendations to address the needs of Arizonans experiencing homelessness and to mitigate increases in homelessness. Some of the recommendations include investing in permanent housing options, freezing all evictions, providing support to landlords and increasing the speed, accessibility and generosity of safety-net benefits, especially rental assistance.
“Such investments will reduce the magnitude of the long-term economic disruptions to our state economy resulting from churn in the housing market and increases in homelessness,” Bentele said. “In addition, these investments will provide support to our most vulnerable households, families and individuals who have seen their health, finances and communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”
“We have all felt the impact of the pandemic in various ways, but our most vulnerable community members are hit the hardest,” Powell added. “Policymakers have the ability to intercede and make both fiscally smart and humane decisions. These recommendations create a win-win situation during a time when wins are so difficult to come by.”