According to the Aspen Institute, as reported by Steve Rhode, "One in five of the 110 million Americans who live in renter households are at risk of eviction by September." Most of these people live in urban areas, but the trauma and loss caused by eviction are just as devastating for them as for the Southern tenant farmers who lost their homes a hundred years ago.
Being evicted often means that parents have to pull their children out of school in midyear, which disrupts their kids' education. Renting another apartment usually requires the new tenant to come up with a security deposit, which may be impossible for people who have no savings and no credit cards. Moving to a new apartment also means having to open a new account for electricity and water, and often the utility companies require a deposit.
Three moves equal one fire in modern America. And people who can't scramble successfully from one rented apartment to another become homeless.
Our federal government has distributed massive infusions of cash into the American economy to offset the economic calamity caused by COVID-19. Still, a lot of that money went to people who don't need it. More than 600,000 businesses benefited from the Payroll Protection Program, including 1,400 investment advisors.
Poor people, on the other hand, have received scant relief. The government mailed out $1,200 one-time checks a few months ago, but that amount may not cover a month's rent. Congress fattened people's unemployment checks by $600 a month--a significant benefit, to be sure, but this aid is temporary.
We already see the disruption in housing caused by the coronavirus. The number of adults living with their parents has spiked upward to 24.8 million, with the most significant increases among people in their early twenties. Sixty percent of young Black men are living with their parents or grandparents.
Matthew Desmond called for radical changes in housing policy in his 2016 book titled Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. He argues for universal housing vouchers to guarantee that every American would live in a home that is "decent, modest, and fairly priced."
In the short term, I don't see significant changes in national housing policy. But this much seems clear. The federal government needs to devote a substantial amount of its coronavirus-relief money to making sure unemployed, and low-income Americans can stay in their rented homes.
|Shanty housing during the Great Depression|