Eviction protections, payments kept homelessness in check in L.A., study shows

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Eviction moratoria and cash receipts from extended unemployment insurance and stimulus payments helped thousands of economically vulnerable people in Los Angeles County become homeless during the pandemic, a new study finds.

The study released by the Economic Roundtable on Wednesday estimated that homelessness increased by 13% between 2020 and 2022 – a higher figure than the official count – but that it would have risen to 23% without the interventions.

“Eviction moratoria and cash payments kept households and workers intact during the Covid pandemic,” the study said. “These two interventions worked.”

The “Breaking the Fall” report argues that the same measures, supplemented by relocation services, should be used to mitigate another potential wave of homelessness if a recession hits next year.

A rise in the unemployment rate to 5.25% could cause an estimated 7,040 people in Los Angeles County to lose their homes over the next four years, the analysis found. The effect would be nationwide, with more than 20,000 newly homeless in California and nearly 62,000 in the United States.

“The most important thing is to learn from our successes and keep doing things that have worked to keep people out of homelessness,” Daniel Flaming, chair of the Economic Roundtable, said in an interview. “It is in everyone’s interest to prevent a problem from happening, rather than solve a tragedy. Protecting the housing and incomes of people at risk of homelessness is a simpler and more productive solution than waiting until we have to provide housing later.”

The study contradicts the findings of the official homeless count, conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, in support of critics who argue that the number was too low. The bureau’s statisticians estimate that overall homelessness in the county increased by 4.1% from 2020 to 2022, but that an increase in the percentage of people in shelters led to a slight decrease in the number of people living on the streets .

The report described two major flaws in the census: glitches in the mobile phone app used to tabulate results in the field and a drop in volunteer numbers after LAHSA delayed the census for a month due to a spike in COVID -19 cases.

The Economic Roundtable, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that seeks to guide public policy with research on economic, social and environmental conditions, has done extensive research on homelessness and published previous studies critical of the methodology favored by LAHSA developed by USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

Ben Henwood, a professor at the social work school, said he agreed with some of the Round Table’s suggestions to improve the count, but defended its accuracy.

Henwood said he and his colleague, Randall Kuhn of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, explained the anomalies alleged by the Roundtable in a presentation this fall to USC’s Homeless Policy Research Institute.

“With the exception of one census in Venice, everything else seemed pretty reasonable from all quality checks,” he said.

The Roundtable’s analysis of the effects of pandemic relief measures was based on two statistical pillars. First, by comparing the link between unemployment and homelessness after the 2008 recession, it predicted the likely growth of homelessness due to the economic disruptions of the pandemic. It then subtracted its recalculated figure for the 2022 census from that projection.

It attributed most of the effect to tenant protection, saying they cut evictions by half nationally and more in California and Los Angeles.

Next came cash receipts from unemployment insurance and stimulus payments, preventing poverty for most low-income unemployed workers until mid-2021.

About one-fifth of vulnerable workers benefited from the expanded child tax credit, and a small portion of the workforce benefited from housing benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program, the analysis said.

The report argues that the system of homeless services should not be expected to prevent homelessness from increasing in a future economic downturn.

“The really obvious and huge problem that causes homelessness in recessions is underemployment,” Flaming wrote in the report. “We are equipped with the tools we need to fight homelessness. It is up to us to use them.”

The homeless services system doesn’t have those tools, he said. “It is the responsibility of mainstream public systems to provide income support and protect housing.”

A final recommendation, which goes against the broad reach of pandemic relief payments, is that financial interventions should be targeted using predictive analytic screening to identify unemployed workers most likely to become homeless.

Flaming’s methodology raised eyebrows among others who study homelessness.

Taking a projection as an assumed outcome and comparing it to an estimated true outcome “is a really speculative exercise, in my opinion,” said Jason Ward, an associate economist at the Rand Corp.

Ward, who also researches new counting methodologies, said he thought Flaming’s recalculation of counting data was “not a bad idea” but questioned the validity of comparing the protracted recession that started in 2008 with the sharp but brief downturn in 2020.

“My impression is that sharp changes in employment would primarily lead to more doubling, shelter and rapid rehousing rather than appreciable increases in homelessness,” he said.

Flaming took the criticism to heart. There is no doubt that unemployment and homelessness are related, he said.

“Jason is right when he says linkage is imprecise,” he said. “What exactly that ratio is, we should understand better and study more.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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