Our website is made possible by displaying online ads to our visitors.
Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our site.

As pandemic slows, Catholic Charities reports growing need for rent, utility aid

First slide

Many people are back to work after pandemic-related layoffs, but financial struggles continue for families in Northern Virginia, say diocesan Catholic Charities staffers who are still getting a flood of requests for emergency rent and utility assistance.

It’s a slow but steady and building crisis, and it is predicted to continue growing.” Catherine Hassinger, Catholic Charities

Catherine Hassinger, director of community services, said many callers are citing issues other than COVID-19, or that have a tangential relationship to the pandemic, such as not being able to work because they lost child care.

“A lot of callers who are returning to the workforce can only find part-time jobs with no benefits. So they are working but they are struggling financially,” she said.

Case worker Ruth Guillen agreed. “As people are going back to work, they are behind in their monthly rent and simultaneously have very large past-due utility balances,” she said. “So their financial crisis is ongoing.”

The annual Catholic Charities Christmas collection, which takes place at Masses Dec. 10-11, funds much of this emergency assistance, as well as supporting other ministries that provide food, health care, services for seniors and assistance for the homeless.

In fiscal year 2021 (July 2020 through June 2021) Catholic Charities served 3,620 emergency assistance clients and provided $1.8 million in rent and utility aid — more than in 2019 or 2020, Catholic Charities said. In just the first quarter of the current fiscal year (July through September 2021), the agency assisted 293 people with rent and 331 with utility assistance, Hassinger added.

Affordable housing continues to be a significant issue. A moratorium on evictions during the pandemic has led to fewer available units and increased demand. High demand leads landlords to raise rents when units do become available, “which effectively knocks out the low-wage earners,” Hassinger said. 

She said a federal eviction moratorium by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, intended to curb the spread of the pandemic, ended in October, but Virginia extended a statewide moratorium until June 30, 2022, with certain conditions. Meanwhile, a state rent relief program was set to end Nov. 30. “There is supposed to be a replacement program and a new program for mortgage assistance, but (as of Thanksgiving week) we are still waiting for details,” she said. In the meantime, many homeowners are looking at bankruptcies and foreclosures.

“There was not the giant tsunami of evictions that everyone was worried about, however evictions are occurring, and homelessness is increasing,” she said. “It’s a slow but steady and building crisis, and it is predicted to continue growing. If there was a giant surge, it might make the front page, but this is the kind of slowly building crisis that escapes notice until it’s too big to ignore.”

Many emergency assistance clients now are struggling with car issues, said Mary McNamee, senior case coordinator. “They let their insurance or inspections lapse because they were out of work and staying home. Now they are struggling to restart insurance and get cars inspected. I had one client who got a ticket due to the inspection issue and now that’s an additional expense she has while waiting to get her first paycheck.”

“It seems so simple,” Hassinger said, “but these folks have no money, and these accumulations of debt will bury them.”

To seek assistance or donate:

Go to ccda.net

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021