How Cash Infusions Can Prevent Evictions for Families Most Affected by COVID-19


In response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, THRIVE East of the River—a partnership among Martha’s Table, Bread for the City, the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, and the 11th Street Bridge Park (a project of Building Bridges Across the River)—provided grocery assistance and direct cash payments of up to $5,500 to 400 households (as of February 18, 2021) in the District of Columbia. THRIVE seeks to encourage economic recovery in Wards 7 and 8 communities most affected by the pandemic.

Most THRIVE participants are renters with low incomes, and we’ve found direct cash infusions have helped them pay rent and avoid eviction during the pandemic.

THRIVE participants faced financial and housing insecurity before the COVID-19 pandemic

Households that received cash infusions from THRIVE were economically vulnerable before the pandemic. More than 40 percent had annual household incomes of less than $10,000 in 2019, with 27 percent of THRIVE households making $5,000 or less. By comparison, only 9 percent of all DC households had incomes of less than $10,000.

Bar chart showing THRIVE participants experienced economic instability before COVID-19


In addition, 89 percent of THRIVE participants reported renting their homes. Renters with low incomes, like most THRIVE participants, are often highly rent burdened and have less in savings to protect themselves from economic shocks, making them more vulnerable to eviction.

Data collected early in the pandemic show Black renters and renters with low incomes were more likely to miss rent payments and more likely to express uncertainty about paying their rent the following month compared with white, higher-income renters. And because fewer than half of THRIVE participants reported receiving housing assistance, they may lack access to an essential safety net that would protect them during an economic crisis.

Additionally, 77 percent of THRIVE participants lived in households with related children, compared with only 36 percent of households in Wards 7 and 8 and only 23 percent of households in DC. A study of renters in Milwaukee found that even before the pandemic, families with more children were more likely to be evicted than households with fewer children.

The pandemic has added financial and emotional stress to parents struggling to balance being providers, caregivers, and educators. Some THRIVE participants reported having to choose between employment and caring for their children when day cares closed and schools went online. One THRIVE participant, a single mother, remarked, “My children are learning virtually [and] no one helps out.” Another participant mentioned that he was unemployed because he is a full-time dad who “has to support distance learning for [his] 9-year-old.”

Bar chart showing most THRIVE participants live in households with related kids


THRIVE’s cash infusions offer a lifeline to prevent evictions

Provisional data from an experimental basic income program, a form of cash transfer, in Stockton, California, found people spent 40 percent of the money they received on food and another 11 percent on utility bills. In line with this finding, many THRIVE households who had fallen behind on rent, mortgages, and utility bills reported using their cash infusions to cover these costs. One THRIVE participant noted the payments have helped a lot. They said, “I was laid off from work and my unemployment benefits [were] stopped.…THRIVE helped me out a lot to catch up on my rent.” Another participant used THRIVE to find housing for their family: “THRIVE help[ed] me to move out of the shelter after being homeless since 2013. Me and my children have a fully furnished home [now].”

Philanthropists, community members, and policymakers can support cash infusions like THRIVE’s

The pandemic’s economic fallout could lead to many more households becoming increasingly vulnerable, especially as eviction moratoria lift. Philanthropy, community members, and policymakers can make a difference through the following:

  • supporting community-based cash infusions like THRIVE’s by donating money, time, and resources
  • using cash delivery mechanisms that are flexible enough to meet clients’ needs
  • ensuring the most economically vulnerable households can access all available resources to support their economic recovery during and after the pandemic

THRIVE’s cash transfers provided necessary lifelines to vulnerable households in Wards 7 and 8 by taking care of their basic housing needs. To these families, THRIVE’s cash infusions provided stability amid an unpredictable pandemic.