What Public Housing Agencies Need to Know About Inflation

No matter where you go, what neighborhood you’re in, or who you talk to, the burden of inflation cannot be missed – or denied. While everyone feels its effects to some degree, it’s unfortunately no surprise when Investopedia tells us that low-income families bear the disproportionate brunt of this dreaded economic pitfall. 

This is especially true for those who live in public housing, so you may be wondering how inflation actually impacts PHAs. What, if anything, can your agency do to help alleviate some of the overwhelming pressure inflation can place on your families? We’ll answer these very questionsbut to do so, we need to first dig into what inflation even is. As with most things we face, understanding is the best starting point so let’s learn just a little bit more about what we are seeing around us.  

 

How does inflation affect PHAs?

Inflation refers to the overall rise in prices for goods and services. Sounds simple enough, but when we see the impact it has on our communities, we recognize that it is anything but simple.  

For example, Since 1990, the cost of goods and services have increased by 127 percent. But in the same 32 years, average wages have only increased by a measly 7 percent. To put that bleak fact into an everyday perspective: An item that cost $100 in 1990 would cost more than $220 today, but someone earning $100 in 1990 would only earn $107 today. So, how is someone reasonably supposed to afford that $220 item in today’s world? They don’t. The increasing costs don’t align with the not-so-increasing paychecks.  

With statistics showing inflation is at a level that hasn’t been seen in more than 30 years, we are witnessing the prices of utilities, gasoline, and food reach record heights – all of which has a direct negative impact on your participating families. And that’s before we even get to the sky-high rental prices.  

Lower-income consumers usually spend more of their income on cost-of-living necessities such as rent, food, and utilities. And because they don’t typically have a financial cushion, when prices spike, low-income participating families can take a pretty hard hit in every other expense category. They have to find ways to stretch their stagnant income even further.  

But with all these drawbacks, there is a bright spot for families who receive Social Security benefits. These families receive an increase in their benefits as a cost-of-living adjustment. Consequently, as an agency, you can expect to see increases in various processes among these families, including change of income, moves, and voucher extensions, so it’s a good idea to start preparing for them. 

 

What can your agency do? 

Even though inflation is obviously out of our control, there are certain steps we can take to be prepared for its impact and become a valuable asset to our families in need during the process.  

Thoroughly prepare your staff. Since you can anticipate an increase of those processes we just mentioned, make sure to get ahead of the inevitable extra calls, emails, and office visits by preparing your staff on what they’ll need to do to properly handle the surging demand.  

Send out helpful information. It would be wise to send out easy-to-follow notices to your families that reminds them of the policies on submitting change of income info, and the procedures for requesting a move or an extension. While families will assuredly still have questions and concerns—especially when it comes to moves, as many people will likely struggle to find affordable housing—helpful information can go a long way in lessening the burden for all involved. And it also shows you are in your families’ corner, which goes an even longer way. 

Ensure your families are aware of the Family Self-Sufficiency program. It’s possible some of your families don’t even know about this phenomenal program. The security of owning a home can bring relief when we’re experiencing tumultuous times like during inflation.  Soooo… get them signed up or on the waiting list!  

Also, keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to partner with other local organizations, such as food pantries, clothing closets, employment training, and social services, so that participating families can access any additional resources they may need. 

 

What’s most important to remember during these economically tumultuous times is that every little bit of help and compassion can make a tremendous difference to those in need. And in a world that is arguably lacking in those areas, you are in the perfect position to instead exemplify them and make a positive difference in your families’ lives along the way. 

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