2022 Topical Reporting: Pandemic Coverage, Portfolio winner

The COVID housing crisis

About the Project

As pandemic job loss put millions of renters in danger of eviction, Center for Public Integrity reporter Sarah Kleiner set off to find out whether federal aid was reaching them in a timely manner. She contacted every state and local program receiving the aid to get the answer — and what she found wasn’t good.

In a situation where a few weeks can make all the difference, aid was delayed in many places for months. Even a full year into the effort, $425 million — or 16% — still hadn’t made it to tenants or their landlords.

Public Integrity co-reported that story with The Associated Press, together showing what had gone wrong and where the opportunities for improvement lay.

“Some places made it work and some places didn’t, which demonstrates that the places that didn’t probably could have,” Anne Kat Alexander with Princeton University’s Eviction Lab told the reporters.

It wasn’t only that many programs were plagued by delays. Because Congress didn’t mandate that any of the pandemic aid be used to reduce evictions, several states chose not to do so at all. Three of those — Georgia, West Virginia and Tennessee, all run by Republican governors — have higher than average historic eviction rates.

In North Carolina, which spent $34 million less on rental assistance than it had planned, one housing advocate noted that the money “could have made a huge difference. … Many of these families are back to work and able to pay their rent going forward. What they are not able to do is pay off a balance of six to nine months from last year without help.”

Public Integrity’s Kleiner dug into other aspects of the problem with additional stories. She found similar delays with different coronavirus aid: 20 months in, just a quarter of money distributed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had been spent. She pulled back the curtain on largely untracked evictions in rural places. And she wrote about the connection between evictions and COVID deaths.

Housing insecurity was already a major problem before the pandemic. These stories held officials accountable for uneven efforts to stem an eviction crisis and showed the life-and-death consequences for insufficient action.

Judges Comments

‘The COVID housing crisis’ is a heartbreaking account that uncovers the barriers to accessing government aid programs and the horrifying lack of inaction taken by public officials and the government to address the needs of at-risk communities losing their homes. The amount of work one reporter did to make sure at-risk communities were aware of resources available to them is admirable and will have long-term impacts. This entry has experienced sustained, long-term engagement further exemplifying its importance.