One month into the coronavirus crisis, food and housing insecurity rise

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Since the coronavirus lockdowns began, Mecklenburg’s resource helpline has seen housing assistance requests jump 219% and food assistance jump 747%. These numbers are an indication of the dramatic impacts we’re seeing unfold on Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s economy. 
It has been more than one month since Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency to combat the spread of COVID-19. Since then, both the state and Mecklenburg County have enacted numerous measures to limit the spread. Gatherings of 10 or more are prohibited, dining in is no longer allowed at restaurants, and schools and nonessential businesses have closed as both county and state residents have been told to stay home. 

An analysis of NC 211 (a unified helpline) call data found that from March 10 to April 9:

  • Calls seeking food assistance jumped 747% from the previous month (an increase of 730 calls).
  • There was a 219% (or 1,791 call) increase in housing requests from the previous month. 
  • The vast majority of housing requests (84%) have been for rental assistance. In the year prior to the coronavirus outbreak, rental assistance made up only 32% of all housing requests. 
  • Nearly half (46%) of all housing requests came from just three zip codes — two in west Charlotte (28208, 28217) and one just north of uptown (28206).

The NC 211 data show that requests for housing and food assistance have shot up in the last month. On April 12, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced new federal funding to combat the spike in food insecurity stemming from the pandemic. This additional resource will be important to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community as unemployment rates continue to rise and food-insecure families adjust to the loss of school-funded lunches.

The NC 211 data also tell us that Mecklenburg’s most vulnerable communities are being impacted first. The zip codes reporting the highest rates of 211 calls are also the zip codes with some of the highest poverty and renter-occupied housing rates in Mecklenburg. 

Finally, we can see from the data that the economic impact of COVID-19 is reshaping the specific service needs within the community. Nearly all increases in housing & shelter requests can be attributed to the need for rental assistance. The most common housing request in the year leading up to the Covid-19 crisis was for shelter. 

With more than half a million people in North Carolina filing for unemployment in the first weeks of the crisis and no clear date on when the restrictions might end, we should be prepared for calls for help to increase in the months ahead.