“All for the want of a horseshoe nail.” The closing line of that proverb, which dates from the 13th century, is spot on these days as public health officials struggle to get Americans to do one simple thing: wear a mask to help combat Covid-19.
The consequences of going maskless are real and measurable: increased rates of infection, delayed economic recovery, extended job losses and unemployment, higher poverty rates, and–as eviction moratoria expire–increased numbers of homeless Americans.
We can’t allow the kingdom to be lost over a simple thing like wearing a mask.
The coming weeks in the Covid-19 crisis likely will be particularly critical. That’s because the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits that Congress approved as part of the CARES Act expires at the end of July.
Paul Krugman of the New York Times warns that millions of Americans (including this one) will see their incomes fall by as much as 60% when the benefit expires. Unemployment remains at its highest level in decades and the surge in coronavirus cases is making it hard for the economy to recover.
One analyst told a news outlet earlier this month, “As unemployment soars and enhanced unemployment benefits and eviction moratoria expire, we’re primed to see a tidal wave of evictions that will devastate communities.”
As we head into the autumn months, homelessness could rise sharply in cities and towns all across the country.
Many of us are annoyed by homeless encampments. In Denver, there’s a particularly large number of tents in a park adjacent to the state capitol building. I don’t like looking at it and I don’t like thinking about it. But I’ve been trying to do both in recent months as I learn more about the causes of homelessness and feel the pinch of my own unemployment.
I’ve become more aware, for example, of the social factors that can increase housing vulnerability: health, race, education, domestic abuse, mobility. Many homeless people are afflicted by more than one of these vulnerabilities. Add to them the extra strain of a job loss and the expiration of unemployment benefits and it should be clear to people like me why the homeless crisis is poised to deepen very quickly.
Even before the pandemic, California’s homeless crisis was the focus of a lot of media attention. A 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found the state’ rate of homelessness rose to 16.4%. Between 2018 and 2019, an additional 20,000 people in California became homeless. That was a larger increase than in every other state combined.
“Homelessness is not an issue in California, it’s the issue,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said early this year at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. And that was before the pandemic struck.
Last November, Apple said it would commit $2.5 billion to help combat California’s housing crisis using a series of multi-year initiatives, including:
*A $1 billion affordable housing investment fund with the state of California.
*A $1 billion first-time homebuyer mortgage assistance fund, with increased funding opportunities for essential services personnel, school employees and veterans.
*$300 million in Apple-owned land made available for affordable housing.
*A $150 million Bay Area housing fund, in public-private partnership with Housing Trust Silicon Valley.
*$50 million to support Destination: Home’s efforts to address homelessness in Silicon Valley.
Projects set to launch this year include affordable housing developments funded in partnership with Housing Trust Silicon Valley. Those plans call for creating more than 250 new units of affordable housing across the Bay Area, as well as a mortgage and down payment assistance fund and an affordable housing investment support program created in conjunction with the California Housing Finance Agency.
That program is designed to increase the availability of funding to develop and build new, very low- to moderate-income housing at a lower cost. The program could become a useful tool for California to produce additional affordable housing units over the next five years.
Apple is also supporting Destination: Home and has helped fund construction of more than 1,000 new units of “deeply-affordable and supportive housing” for the most vulnerable populations across Silicon Valley. This includes a new project in Santa Clara that will create 80 new units, designed for seniors who are currently homeless or at risk of falling into homelessness.
The Apple initiative is substantial and meaningful. It is particularly useful because it supports agencies and organizations that are best equipped to make a big impact right away.
By itself the initiative will not solve California’s homeless problem. It will, however, be helpful at a time when the ripple effect of the pandemic seems certain to force many Americans out of their current homes.
Other wealthy corporations should look to Apple and make similar commitment to assist the growing number of Americans who face a housing crisis. And every American should cowboy up, as we say in Colorado, and put on a mask.
What do you think? Join the conversation! firstname.lastname@example.org
Apple is supporting this Charities Housing Development Corp. project in San Jose, which is being financed in partnership with Housing Trust Silicon Valley. The image is courtesy of Apple.