In the middle of a pandemic and mass unemployment, no one should be forced out of their home because they cannot pay the rent or mortgage. It is absurd and dangerous from a public health and equity perspective. We already know that the burden of eviction falls disproportionately on women and people of color, that housing instability and homelessness lead to poor health outcomes, and that the economic & health consequences of COVID-19 continue to unjustly impact Black, Hispanic or Latino, and Indigenous communities in particular. A housing crisis will soon explode as CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits end and eviction & foreclosure moratoriums expire, if no action is taken – it is already happening in communities that are excluded from even these supports. Eviction exacerbates patterns of inequity.
It is hard to overstate how concerning this is. In Massachusetts, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s Layoff Housing Gap series recently released a by-municipality report – the underlying data suggest there are 120,000 Massachusetts households currently receiving unemployment who will not be able to afford their current housing when the extra $600 per week stops on July 31, to the tune of $128 million needed per month ($1,041 per household). Black and Hispanic or Latino households are almost twice as likely to experience a financial gap compared to all laid-off workers. And, these numbers do not even include Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants nor workers who are ineligible for unemployment due to immigration status.
It is clearly not safe to “re-open the economy,” as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, testing capacity and turn-around time continue to lag, and contact tracing efforts continue to be overwhelmed. And it is absurd to think that people who were already struggling before the pandemic – including over 340,000 renter households in Greater Boston paying more than 30% of their income toward housing – can somehow conjure up the cash to fill the gap. The crisis in affordable, safe housing existed long before the pandemic began, rooted in structural racism and the perverse conflation of real estate speculation with investment in economic security, and exacerbated by social safety net erosion. But the fact that this is a longstanding problem does not justify near-term inaction.
Right now, it is so important to listen to people fighting displacement (like City Life / Vida Urbana in Greater Boston), to donate to rental assistance funds and mutual aid efforts if we can, and to contact our local representatives to demand eviction moratorium extensions and rent & mortgage relief (in Massachusetts, An Act to guarantee housing stability during the COVID-19 emergency and recovery was just filed). And, we have to keep advocating for federal leadership to prevent eviction and foreclosure, to provide rent relief to protect both tenants and landlords, and for the longer term, to significantly expand access to safe, affordable housing. Housing equity is deeply connected to health equity, and the clarity of threat to both is only magnified by COVID-19.