This week, as the country faces a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, the Supreme Court rejected the Biden administration’s moratorium on emergency evictions – an action designed to keep people safe during an unprecedented health and economic crisis.
According to soon-to-be released data from the National Equity Atlas’ Rent Debt Dashboard, the devastating move puts more than 6 million homes in imminent danger of losing their homes and threatens to accelerate the alarming spread of COVID. No matter where we come from or where we live, having a safe place to feel at home is a basic need.
It is high time that our leaders, at all levels of government, did the necessary work to protect communities, keep people in their homes, and provide the life-saving help so many families need. Tenants and small landlords should not suffer from late and insufficient government action.
Over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis has exacerbated the impacts of generations of systemic racism and policy making that prioritize profits over people. Blacks, Latin Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and low income white communities suffered the upper COVID-19 infection rates and have suffered alarming and disproportionate loss of life. Today, more than 6 million tenant households – half of which are families with children – are currently behind on rent. For too many of these families, the moratorium on evictions is the only protection that keeps them in their homes.
While Congress made the important decision to allocate $ 46.5 billion in rent assistance to state and local governments, only 11 percent of these funds have been distributed.
In the midst of a massively uneven recession that has disproportionately cost low-wage workers their jobs and livelihoods, low-income renters and renters of color are much more likely to be behind on rent. Among households indebted to rent, 81 percent are low-income (with incomes less than $ 50,000 per year) and 64 percent are renters of color. The majority (51%) are currently unemployed.
Renters of color are twice as likely to be late as white renters – 24% of black renters, 17% of Asian or Pacific Islander and Latino renters, and 18% of multiracial renters are behind on rent, up from 9 % of white tenants. In addition, the owners – who are disproportionately white – have seen a $ 1.9 trillion increase in home equity in the first year of the pandemic. This crisis exacerbates economic inequalities and widens the racial wealth gap.
The potential for mass evictions is one of the pandemic’s most pressing equity issues. We call on leaders at all levels of government to act now to prevent this crisis.
Congress can protect tenants on the scale that this time demands. They must act immediately to pass a national moratorium on evictions that offers long-term protections to tenants who have been affected by the pandemic and should commit to providing relief to every household that needs it. This will give states and local communities the time they need to come to the aid of the millions of people who are struggling to pay off their rental debt.
The administration also has an essential role to play. We agree with our partners from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Housing Law Project who are call for a moratorium on evictions for tenants living in all federally assisted properties and urge the administration to explore and use any authority it has to institute a moratorium or other eviction prevention requirements on mortgaged properties or a multi-family loan guaranteed by the federal government. The Justice and Treasury Department should also use its authority to ensure tenants eligible for assistance get help quickly and do not go through the court eviction process.
Finally, state and local governments and their courts must redouble their efforts on the important work they do in partnering with directly affected communities and tenant advocates to adopt and strengthen moratoriums on evictions, streamline eviction processes. ‘help, establish and fund the right to a lawyer for tenants facing eviction and ensure that tenants eligible for relief are not displaced by the court eviction process.
There are a number of state and local governments that have taken significant steps to protect tenants and they can serve as a models but many others must act. Heads of government have the opportunity to right past and immediate wrongs by joining together and following the lead of local organizations defending our communities long before the current crisis.
If left unresolved, widespread evictions and unresolved debts will increase the already unacceptable racial wealth divide and exacerbate the public health, economic and social costs that the pandemic has imposed on families and communities. But that doesn’t have to be our future. Our governing institutions can and must serve better. They can start by acting together to prevent this travesty of eviction and protect those who are suffering the most. This will lay the foundation for a just recovery and pay dividends for all of us.
Michael mcafee is the President and CEO of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute that advances racial and economic equity.