Housing & Hunger Awareness – South Carolina Faces COVID-19 Challenges

COVID-19 blog series

This week, I was privileged to speak on a virtual session organized by the Greenville Homeless Alliance on Students and Families in Greenville County Schools as part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness, alongside colleagues from Greenville County Schools, Public Education Partners, United Housing Connections, and OnTrack Greenville. The recording is available here.

While the conversation was “close to home” – focusing on Greenville County, SC where ICS is headquartered – many of the challenges and opportunities discussed have relevance for other communities across the state and country. In particular, the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 health emergency have changed the needs of residents, the ability of organizations to respond, and the long-term impacts felt by families.

It’s difficult to collect real-time data on the impacts on housing and hunger in the region, particularly as service providers and government agencies are already stretched thin simply trying to respond to this increased need. Locally, United Way Greenville County has shared powerful information on real-time information and shows the delicate balancing act families are living through financially. Based on information in the Post & Courier, “More than 8,500 customers in Greenville County alone have fallen behind on utility bills — owing $4 million total” as of October and “United Way’s 211 crisis call line… received 8,000 calls in the past three months…more than it typically receives in a full year….” – 1,300 were for rental assistance as of September.  These numbers are certainly an undercount of need in the community, as they do not include those who are unaware of the hotline or who do not call for personal reasons (believe they are ineligible; fear; or personal preference).

Throughout the year, Census Bureau has conducted a special survey of household needs and impacts as a result of COVID-19 which can give us a view of the needs over time statewide. A high percentage of renters in South Carolina are behind on their rent in any given week, with the situation being even worse among families with children.

housing chart 1

The rate differs each week based on a range of factors, including the economic conditions in the state, “lockdown” and other precautions which impact business operations, the availability of child care/education programs for working parents, and timing in the course of the month – but on average, in any given week, 21 percent of all renter households and 31 percent of renter households with children were behind on rent.* Among owner households, the numbers are not as stark but still merit concern; on average, 10 percent of all owner households and 13 percent of owner households with children were behind on their housing payment. Whether this points to a more beneficial economic situation for owner households (in terms of fewer pandemic-related job losses, etc.) or a deeper safety net is unclear.

Based on this very high rate of renters behind on payments, there are concerns about the potential impact of eviction. In early September, experts estimated 185,000 upcoming evictions in South Carolina by the end of 2020 as the state’s eviction mortarium expired. However, the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention extended a national moratorium on many evictions until 2021. Despite that, the burden is on tenants to avail themselves of this option; they “must fill out a declaration form confirming they: make no more than $99,000 a year, have suffered substantial loss of income or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses, are trying to make partial rent payments, have no other housing options,” and eviction is still allowed for other reasons than non-payment. The goal of the moratorium was to stop a sudden flood of displaced people, particularly as the virus continues to spread; however, it does not forgive nonpayment and we may still see significant wave of evictions when moratorium expires as debts have accumulated.

Notably, the Census Bureau data also show that generally speaking, more people are worried about their future housing payments than are actually behind on payments – suggesting both that those who are behind do not envision their situation improving in the next month as well as anxiety among those currently making payments that they may face challenges.

housing chart 2

Again, we see higher rates of uncertainty about the future among renters than among owners, and in both groups, the uncertainty rates are higher for households with children than those without.

 Finally, the South Carolina data show that housing insecurity and food insecurity are often closely intertwined. Or put another way:

housing SC

For those looking to learn more about these issues, Greenville County is rich in resources and expertise:

  • This session was one of four organized by GHA this week on issues regarding housing and hunger. Materials from these sessions, including documents and recordings, will be archived by GHA on their website. You can still register for the following online Community Forum session, all of which are scheduled from 11a-12p:
  • Greenville Homeless Alliance has released a new fact sheet sharing key elements of the issues facing Greenville County families.
  • ICS has recently released a brief on housing and the impacts on child health, looking at national evidence on how and why families of all ages are impacted by housing instability.
  • If you need support during this time, the United Way of Greenville County has a resource list of programs and opportunities for families navigating the economic challenges of COVID-19. You can also learn more about supporting their local efforts, including donating and volunteering.
Back to News