Thursday, July 30, 2020

Priority.. Paying Rent and Buying Food. What of water? COVID-19 2020 and Beyond.

Community Imperative

BEMA International


The pandemic’s devastating toll on vulnerable children, solidarity and allyship in the struggle against racism, and a call for “radical relief,” in this week’s Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No 16. July 29, 2020

Prioritize People over Profits, and Ban Evictions
By Jamila Henderson

As eviction moratoriums rapidly expire — including the federal moratorium that ended last week — renters, especially those who are Black and Brown and women, will be forced to choose between paying rent and buying food.

In the Bay Area’s Contra Costa County, an estimated 12,000 renter households facing homelessness were spared, due in part to the advocacy of the Raise the Roof coalition. It used data to convince the county Board of Supervisors of the magnitude of potential evictions without a moratorium. The board unanimously approved an extension to September 30, giving vulnerable residents a temporary reprieve from evictions. But millions of renters have no such lifeline in sight. We must prepare for a wave of evictions and homelessness that could ensue without strong renter protections.

Massachusetts and the Bay Area’s Alameda County can serve as models for action and advocacy. In Massachusetts, over 1,000 residents and over 200 organizations took collective action to win one of the strongest eviction and foreclosure moratoriums in the nation. The policy prevents landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent, stops court eviction filings, blocks sheriffs’ enforcement of eviction and late fees, and includes a moratorium on evictions for small businesses.

In California’s Alameda County, tenants are protected from most evictions through September, with a 12-month grace period to pay back rent without threat of eviction. When the grace period is up, any rent owed becomes consumer debt.

Renters who have been laid off, had their hours or pay cut, or who have fallen ill or had to care for sick loved ones are at particularly high risk of eviction. Some will be spared temporarily by unemployment insurance benefits while they last, or by savings or other sources. Others are ineligible for benefits because they are undocumented, self-employed, or working in the informal economy. These renters and others face an imminent threat of eviction and homelessness. Maria, an undocumented worker living in Houston, became homeless after her hours were cut and she was unable to pay rent. Despite the state’s eviction moratorium, as an undocumented immigrant she feared accumulating debt and appearing in court, a situation that may be quite common.

The entire nation will suffer if struggling renter households are left to fend for themselves when temporary eviction moratoriums end. Renter households account for 37 percent of all households nationwide and contribute an estimated $1.5 trillion each year to the national economy. Even before the pandemic, half of renter households were cost burdened — paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing. This was especially true for low-income renters and renters of color, and the problem has surely grown as unemployment has reached Depression-era levels.

If all renters were charged only what they could afford for housing, together, renter households would have an extra $124 billion to spend in the economy each year. This translates to $6,200 per household to support local businesses, pay for food, education, and health care, or invest in critical savings. We are all in this together: the economic security of rent-burdened households shapes the prosperity of our communities and of the nation and is especially urgent now, as America grapples with structural racism and with a pandemic that’s disproportionately killing Black and Brown people.

Ultimately, we need policies that value people over property. We value people by guaranteeing affordable, safe, and high-quality housing for all regardless of income. We do this by investing in public housing, community land trusts, and housing cooperatives. Tenants in Minneapolis who recently won community control of five apartment buildings are leading the charge. A focus on people must also acknowledge and remedy racist housing policies of the past rooted in the theft of Native land and the exclusion of Black communities, through reparative approaches.

Right now, we need strong protections that endure through the Covid-19 recovery. This includes a ban on evictions, canceled rent and mortgages tied to relief for affordable housing providers and small landlords, and housing first for people without access to safe and healthy shelter. Federal proposals to provide financial assistance for rent would bring immediate benefits to renters. The aid should target the most vulnerable and have adequate funds to meet the tremendous need. Furthermore, we must continue to advocate for strong renter protections that local leaders have been pushing for years, including limiting the grounds on which landlords can evict tenants through “just cause” legislation, enacting rent control, and ensuring the right to counsel for low-income renters.

Local leaders closest to these issues have the solutions, but we need the political will to implement them. Learn more about bold policy solutions to protect renters from eviction during the pandemic and beyond from our latest briefs, Strategies to Advance Racial Equity in Housing Response and Recovery: A Guide for Cities during the Covid-19 Pandemic and Inclusive Processes to Advance Racial Equity in Housing Recovery: A Guide for Cities during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

- Jamila Henderson is a Senior Associate at PolicyLink.

Highlights from the News, Analysis, and Commentary

As Congress negotiates the next Covid-19 relief package, there is a vast gulf between the narrow Senate Republican bill, HEALS, put forward this week, and the more expansive HEROES Act passed by House Democrats more than two months ago. 

The debate is heating up as millions of Americans lose their supplemental unemployment insurance. Vox compares the two packages. And see Federal Policy Priorities for an Equitable COVID-19 Relief and Recovery, by PolicyLink. 
The anti-eviction provisions of an earlier relief package, the CARES Act, were largely successful until they expired, ProPublica reports. Before the law, more than 7,700 households were evicted monthly from federally backed apartment buildings in Atlanta and Houston; the number dropped to less than 200 in the months the protections were in effect.

Please share with your networks, send your ideas and feedback, and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram using hashtag #COVIDandRace.

We hope you find the COVID-19 and Race Series an important tool for keeping up with news about the virus and its impact on communities we serve.

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