As our governments rightfully encourage and even order us to stay home in order to protect the lives of our most vulnerable residents, for many this represents a different kind of crisis. "Sheltering in place" for people who are fortunate means figuring out logistics and working while safe in their own homes. For others, it only exacerbates the living conditions with which they have struggled for so long.
Recently, over 490 people applied for Habitat for Humanity homes and many of them are working on the front lines in hospitals, grocery stores and nursing homes. Their jobs put them at a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus — but too often, so do their homes.
At Habitat for Humanity, we see a lot of working families sharing their apartments with other families just to be able to pay their rent. Imagine trying to practice "social distancing" when there are three other families with grandparents and kids in one apartment — they are at a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Receiving an education and studying from home differs for kids depending on their family's socioeconomic status. Access to a quiet space, computers, Wi-Fi, phones and a parent who has the time and capacity to help with studying when they aren't working on the front lines is not always possible. Portland Public Schools recognizes the inequities of "shelter in place" and has so far handed out over 6,000 digital devices — families waited in long lines, highlighting this great need.
Many people who apply for Habitat homes are living in unsafe and unhealthy housing. Moldy walls, leaky roofs and other critical repairs are very much needed. "Sheltering in place" means their housing-related respiratory illnesses like asthma are exacerbated, putting them at greater risk if they contract the coronavirus.
There was a housing crisis before the coronavirus hit — this crisis is intensifying. If we do not think long term, we risk what happened 12 years ago during our last recession: a disproportionate amount of displacement experienced by low-income households and households of color. We must take some strategic risks now and explore innovative ways of helping people keep the homes they own, preserve affordable housing and seize the opportunity to purchase homes and land as prices are temporarily down. Doing so might not only help us all get through this, but could put us on a trajectory to come out of this crisis as a stronger, more equitable community.
At Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, the construction of homes continues. Right now, we are building safe, healthy and affordable homes for 200 people right here in Portland. We have seen that when a family moves into their own Habitat home, everything improves. Their physical and mental health, their financial independence and their kids' education. In fact, 92% of kids who grow up in a Habitat for Humanity home in Oregon graduate from high school. We need the public's support to ensure that this critical work can continue
Steve Messinetti is president & CEO of Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.