A wave of mass evictions is inevitable, and Black women will be hit the hardest
Millions of tenants across the country will be at risk of losing their homes in just a few days time, at the height of a pandemic. And decades of deep-rooted, structural inequalities in our housing system have set up Black women and other communities of color to bear the brunt of this impending mass eviction crisis.
On July 25, the federal CARES Act eviction moratorium — which prohibits the filing of new evictions in federally supported or financed housing and covers more than 12 million rental units — is set to expire. This will trigger a flood of evictions for millions of tenants, many of whom are among the most vulnerable and marginalized communities, and further entrench racial and gender inequities in housing.
Since the U.S. declared a national emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted widespread and devastating economic consequences, as tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs. As of June, 17.8 million workers remain unemployed and, for many, without a reasonable chance of returning to their prior jobs. Many of those affected are women and workers of color, who are overrepresented in the low-wage jobs that are most vulnerable to layoffs during the pandemic.
The pandemic’s economic fallout has only magnified the existing affordable housing crisis in this country. Even before the pandemic, nearly 8 million renters spent more than half their income on housing. Now, with the added impact of COVID-19, one in five renters may be at risk of eviction by the end of September. This month alone, more than one in three tenants in the U.S. failed to make rent — an alarming sign that many households are struggling to pay their bills.
However, not all renters will experience this housing crisis equally. Black and Brown communities are disproportionately harmed by the pandemic due to racial inequities in health care and employment — and housing is no different. This country’s legacy of housing discrimination and segregation has led to staggering disparities in homeownership and household wealth. Today, 73 percent of white families own their homes, as compared with just 41 percent of Black families and 49 percent of Latinx families. Moreover, the average wealth of a white family is nearly 10 times that of a Black family. These disparities put Black and Brown people at a heightened risk of eviction.
Black women face the greatest threat of losing their homes. In many states, Black women renters, on average, had evictions filed against them at double the rate of white renters (or higher), according to a report released this year by the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Data Analytics team. As a result, Black women are especially vulnerable to the damaging consequences of eviction, including health issues, job loss, and even homelessness. Moreover, the aftermath of eviction persists for decades, as individuals with prior eviction records are indefinitely shut out of future housing opportunities due to unfair tenant-screening policies that deny housing to anyone with a prior eviction record. These outcomes will only exacerbate the racial and gender disparities that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic unless Congress acts now.
All people — regardless of their circumstances or background — should have access to safe and stable housing, especially during a pandemic. Safe and stable housing enables people to more easily return to work and is essential for stopping the spread of COVID-19 and reducing the burden on hospitals and other social services. Congress must prevent this looming eviction crisis and blunt the existing disparities in housing by providing two key pieces of relief.
First, Congress must extend the federal CARES Act eviction moratorium to protect all tenants for the duration of the pandemic and beyond. Without prompt action by Congress, millions of households could lose their homes as soon as next week.
Second, Congress must include at least $100 billion in funding for emergency rental assistance in the next COVID-19 relief bill. Such assistance would enable households, including those who have lost jobs or were already struggling to pay rent before the pandemic, to remain stably housed and avoid the lasting harms of eviction.
No one should be forced out of their home during a pandemic. We need bold and swift action from Congress to prevent mass evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond.
Linda Morris is Skadden Fellow of ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
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