Things looked up for Debra Griffin in early March when she got a job at a landscaping company, making it easier to pay rent in metro-Atlanta where she lived with her two teenage boys, disabled brother and toddler grandsons.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Debra’s job ended because she couldn’t work from home. The daycare centers closed, leaving her unable to look for any other work without someone to watch the kids. Debra’s landlord wouldn’t wait for her unemployment or a stimulus check to come in so she could pay her rent. Instead, the landlord evicted her and her family in the middle of a pandemic. They were left without a safe residence to shelter in place to help stop the spread of the virus.
Millions of Americans find themselves in Debra’s situation. And the people getting hit the most and the hardest are people of color. This pandemic is highlighting the housing instability that so many families of color across the United States face — just one job loss away from homelessness.
We’ve been here before. Whether it was the Great Depression from the last century, or more recently, hurricanes Katrina or Harvey in Louisiana and Texas, or the natural disasters that devastated Puerto Rico, the government’s responses to disasters repeatedly fail communities of color.
This current pandemic is no different. Reports are showing that Native Americans and black Americans have been hit the hardest by the deadly disease. Families of color, whether they own their home or rent it, are most at risk of housing insecurity in our country.
While all levels of government have enacted various stay-at-home orders, the reality is that many people have no access to a home, and that even more people are struggling to make rent, especially as record numbers of people — more than 30 million — have filed for unemployment since mid-March. As the national debate rages about when states should re-open businesses, the White House’s economic advisers are warning that unemployment can reach up to 20 percent by June, the highest since the Great Depression.
Still, the rent is due.
As Congress negotiates federal aid packages to help struggling people, they must consider a national eviction and foreclosure moratorium coupled with robust rental and homeowner assistance to help Debra and millions of people like her.
As affordable housing advocates, we know the level of housing insecurity in the United States demands that solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic must address an affordable housing crisis caused by a history of racist policies that benefit unscrupulous landlords and fail families like Debra’s. We are calling on local, state and federal leaders to enact the policies that equitably distributes resources to build and maintain affordable housing for all.
We have all heard the COVID-19 slogan “we are ALL in this together.” We can lean into this value by ending racist policies and practices that keep everyone from having a place to call home. As housing leaders from Louisiana to Washington state, we have seen hurricanes, wildfires and economic disasters hit our communities and devastate our communities’ access to safe, affordable housing.
And we’ve seen inadequate government responses that have deepened the housing crisis. For example, as of March, approximately $39 million remains unused for housing recovery in Louisiana from hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and we lack congressional approval to use the funds for other housing emergencies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the COVID-19 crisis so far no state has done an adequate job addressing the needs of their residents. While many states have taken important steps, no state can adequately address this crisis on their own. We now have the opportunity to reprioritize and invest in stabilizing people now and for the future.
As the first of another month looms and rent and mortgage payments are due, we have an important decision to make. Are we going to be our neighbor’s keeper and make sure everyone has a roof over their head to safely shelter in place? Or, are we going to let inaction on this crisis push us, our families and our neighbors into the streets?
Our housing crisis has been decades in the making. But this pandemic has shown clearly that housing is a public health need. Without a stable home, Debra and her family have had to shelter with friends in crowded spaces.
This moment demands the federal government provide rent and mortgage payment assistance immediately. In addition, we must begin a federally funded housing production program that will put an end to the affordability crisis and end homelessness and racial disparities in housing as we know it. As a community, we can make the choices that allow Debra and her children and grandchildren thrive.
This opinion article is a collaborative effort by housing leaders in six states. They are: Bambie Hayes-Brown of Georgia; Andreanecia M. Morris of Louisiana; Amina Kirk of Michigan; Alison McIntosh of Oregon; Staci Berger of New Jersey; and Rachael Myers of Washington. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.
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