The COVID-19 crisis is both revealing and deepening the challenges many individuals face each day in accessing basic needs like affordable and healthy housing, reliable energy and water services, internet and phone connectivity, and job security. Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) today released Pandemic Response Guidance to help local, state, and federal leaders nationwide address these issues in their responses to the COVID-19 crisis.
EEFA is not new to addressing the housing and energy affordability needs of under-resourced communities and communities of color. EEFA builds and supports coalitions of affordable housing, health, energy, environmental, and community leaders to drive changes in policies and practices to ensure equitable access to affordable, energy efficient, and healthy housing for all.
NRDC collaboratively created the pandemic guidance alongside fellow National EEFA partners- -National Housing Trust, Elevate Energy, Energy Foundation–as well as local EEFA partners and allies. The guidance highlights policies actively being developed by community groups; local, state, and federal governments; mission-driven nonprofit organizations; and academic researchers.
EEFA believes that everyone has the right to an affordable and healthy home during and after the COVID-19 crisis, especially the most vulnerable who are under-resourced and living on low to extremely low incomes. The EEFA guidance can be incorporated and tailored for local advocacy efforts around COVID-19. It was created to ensure that responses to this pandemic are addressing immediate needs, but also longer-term support related to the recovery period following the crisis.
EEFA’s Pandemic Response Guidance covers recommendations on (1) ensuring access to energy and water, (2) eviction prevention and the preservation of affordable housing, (3) protection of vulnerable workers, (4) access to internet and phone services, and (5) access to healthy housing.
1. Ensuring access to essential energy and water services
Public health officials and leaders are instructing people to take precautions such as staying home and washing hands frequently. But without guaranteed access to essential services such as energy and water, attempts to safeguard people at home will be ineffective if residents are unable to conduct hygiene and cleaning routines that require clean water or are unable to cook and regulate their indoor air temperature without energy services. EEFA’s Pandemic Response Guidance includes a number of actions that local leaders can take to ensure access to essential utility services, including a comprehensive moratorium on utility disconnections and safe reconnections during and in the recovery period following the COVID-19 crisis. Some states, cities, and/or utilities have already enacted utility disconnection moratoria but must go further to alleviate the burden that late payments and fees could create once the state of emergency ends. In addition to temporary shutoff moratoria, EEFA’s guidance highlights policies that can alleviate the long-term financial impact on residents experiencing high energy burdens, including expansion of energy assistance program eligibility, and funding and arrearage forgiveness programs.
2. Preventing Eviction and Preserving Affordable Housing
Many states and cities across the country have instructed residents to stay at home in an effort to reduce exposure to the coronavirus. Stay-at-home orders assume that residents have stable housing to stay in. However, many people who are facing changes in employment due to the COVID-19 crisis are struggling to pay rent. While several local jurisdictions have responded to these concerns with temporary moratoria on evictions and foreclosures, similar to utility shutoff suspensions, such measures only relieve the short-term burden. EEFA suggests cash assistance or rent relief programs as one option to directly remove the burden of late rent down the road. Our guidance also recommends local funds to help affordable housing providers cover their operating expenses, in order to help preserve and maintain affordable housing. Additionally, EEFA’s guidance includes recommendations to specifically address the needs of people already experiencing homelessness, populations in prisons and detention centers, and housing providers for seniors.
3. Protecting Vulnerable Workers
Protecting workers, especially those that are most vulnerable, during this crisis is critical. While EEFA’s work focuses on the energy efficiency and affordable housing sectors, our pandemic guidance covers positive protections for the most vulnerable workers across all sectors. People who are at risk of losing their livelihoods, health care, and homes need additional support right now. The recommendations in this section include sick and family leave rights, such as the right to self-quarantine. It also includes guidance for helping contractors and businesses bridge this period of work stoppage so that they can continue to pay their employees and stabilize their businesses. Additionally, there are recommendations related to the right of all workers to healthcare coverage, COVID-19 testing, emergency support benefits, childcare, overtime pay, protective equipment, and more.
4. Expanding Access to Internet and Phone Services
During this crisis, phones and the internet can serve as vital connections to pandemic information, support networks, and essential services. They are critical to families now required to work or participate in school remotely. Without access, families are at risk of being misinformed on how to stay healthy; losing their jobs; and lacking access to learning. Access to phone and internet services is also important to local EEFA partners that are moving their health, housing, and energy efficiency advocacy and organizing online Fortunately, jurisdictions across the country are beginning to suspend disconnections, expedite reconnections, and forego late payment penalties for internet and phone services. EEFA’s guidance also points to additional resources that some companies are offering, such as access to free wi-fi hotspots, loosening or pausing of data plan charges, and reduced cost or free expanded, unlimited data.
5. Prioritizing Remediation of Unhealthy Housing
Prioritizing the remediation of unhealthy housing is incredibly important in light of the higher impacts of extended time in the home for those under “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders. People told to stay at home when their housing is unhealthy, especially if they have respiratory illnesses, can be a health risk - despite the intention of these orders to help keep people healthy. The Green and Healthy Homes initiative notes in their COVID response “that more than 30 million families, often in low income neighborhoods, live in homes that pose immediate serious health risks and exacerbate underlying illnesses such as asthma, allergies, and other respiratory conditions, as well as mental health challenges.” EEFA’s Pandemic Response Guidance recommends that state and local jurisdictions provide virtual and online healthy housing training programs. It also recommends funds for emergency environmental healthy housing repair and residential services that remediate severe mold, lead, pest management, and more to reduce the prevalence of respiratory illness that can exacerbate COVID-19 outcomes.
The EEFA Pandemic Response Guidance concludes with a list of linked resources related to mutual aid, policy response trackers, policy guidance, and state-specific recommendations. The information can be found on EEFA’s Policy Responses to COVID-19 webpage, which also includes letters written by EEFA state coalitions to state and local leaders urging rapid response to address these issues. Additionally, the page includes a tracker of state and city housing policy responses to COVID-19, including eviction moratoria, rental assistance, announced Low Income Housing Tax Credit actions, and proposals for additional housing relief from advocates.
This is EEFA’s first response guidance to the COVID-19 crisis. We will continue to monitor pandemic responses related to energy and water, housing, workforce, internet and phone, and healthy homes across the country. EEFA state coalitions will also continue their state and local advocacy work and responses to the crisis. The EEFA Project is working to be flexible in order to address issues in a comprehensive way. It is more critical than ever to make connections between sectors and work collaboratively to combat this evolving crisis. This guidance is a first step, and EEFA will continue to look toward both immediate and long-term solutions to ensure under-resourced communities have access to essential services and housing during this crisis and beyond.