Brief Using COVID-19 Relief Resources to End Homelessness
Samantha Batko, Pear Moraras, Amy Rogin
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Congress has appropriated several emergency rental and homelessness assistance resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include funds through the Emergency Solutions Grant, Community Development Block Grant, and Federal Emergency Management Agency. Jurisdictions had flexibility in what activities to undertake using these resources, how to structure those activities, and who should be eligible for and focused on with the resources. We spoke to decisionmakers in eight communities across the country to learn the successes and challenges they had in braiding these different resources to assist people experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness.

Key Takeaways

Jurisdictions generally used COVID-19 relief resources during the first year of the pandemic to employ four primary strategies:

  • Deconcentrating shelters and creating noncongregate shelter opportunities.
  • Increasing outreach and providing hygiene materials and facilities to people in unsheltered locations.
  • Exiting people to permanent housing.
  • Preventing people from entering homelessness through homelessness diversion and emergency rental assistance.

While jurisdictions found success implementing these solutions to end and prevent homelessness amidst a crisis, they also faced challenges with staffing and capacity, effectively and efficiently braiding multiple resources, navigating differing grant expenditure timelines, finding housing in a tightening rental market, and sustaining programming in the face of funding cliffs.


Considering these challenges and the lessons learned from the eight communities, we offer the following policy recommendations for federal policymakers and regulators as they take on new funding for jurisdictions into consideration:

  • Ease expenditure timelines to allow for more flexible programming and planning.
  • Increase clarity and flexibility on eligible uses.
  • Improve coordination between different funding sources.

This work is produced as part of the Housing Crisis Research Collaborative, a partnership between the Urban Institute, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, the NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley. The Collaborative aims to address the long-standing inequities in access to safe, stable, and affordable rental housing that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. We provide policymakers at all levels of government with the data and analysis they need to design, implement, and evaluate more equitable and effective rental housing and community development responses to the pandemic and the ongoing rental housing affordability crisis. More information is available here:

Research Areas Housing
Tags COVID-19 Homelessness
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center Research to Action Lab
Research Methods Quantitative data analysis