Housing initiative fuels cooperation between cities during pandemic

Housing advocates had been talking for years about the need for a shallow rent subsidy to provide small amounts of money that would help low-income tenants pay their rent. The City of Philadelphia budgeted for two small pilot programs to be run by the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation, and enlisted Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning Vincent Reina at the Weitzman School, and assistant professor Amy Castro Baker at the School of Social Policy & Practice to track outcomes for both groups.

Philadelphia aerial cityscape

Then the pandemic reached the United States. Since the spring, cities all over the country have been using money from the federal CARES Act to create small rental assistance programs of their own, aiming to prevent tenants from becoming homeless and thus more vulnerable to COVID-19. To monitor their success and share best practices, a growing group of city officials—starting with Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cleveland, Baltimore, Oakland, and Los Angeles—are working with the Housing Initiative at Penn (HIP). The lessons they’re learning now will help inform how they administer housing assistance throughout the rest of the pandemic and beyond, says Reina, who is also faculty director of HIP.

“We are going to be able to look at the impact of rent relief on individual outcomes and neighborhoods and things like that, but we’re also going to get to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of ways of providing support to households in need [generally] but also specifically in moments of crisis,” Reina says. “Our housing affordability problem is only going to be worse at the tail end of this, and we should not be convinced that this is the last pandemic or the last natural disaster or shock that we’re going to be seeing nationally or globally.”

Read more at The Weitzman School.