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By Nicholas Morgan                                  Follow East Palo Alto Today on
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July 22, 2020                                           EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon


Aspen Institute graphic on increase in evictions
Graphic courtesy of the Aspen Institute

A panel of experts, speaking on housing rights, sounded an alarm related to the COVID-19 pandemic. They warned of the inevitability of a new economic crisis that now faces millions of American tenants.

During a Zoom discussion that was hosted by Sandy Close, founder and director of Ethnic Media Services, the experts warned of a coming “tsunami of evictions.” This tsunami is predicted to occur because of the difficulties the virus has created for countless Americans, who are struggling to pay their rents amidst high unemployment and the scattered protections against evictions, which currently exists.

The panel, which met in a Zoom conference on Friday, July 17, insisted that the pandemic has exasperated many pre-existing issues with no easy solution for policymakers, who are contending with homelessness and a lack of affordable housing across the country. They highlighted how most of the challenges we’re facing because of COVID-19.  particularly impact people of color, who have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic.

“Our country is on the brink of a housing crisis of unprecedented proportions and with no safety net beneath us,” said Emily A. Benfer, a visiting professor at Wake Forest University’s School of Law.

Professor Benfer pointed out that American renters were already at risk of eviction, even when the unemployment figure stood much lower than it is today. Up to 50 million renters bore the brunt of pandemic-related unemployment with an especially acute effect on low-income households.
According to a study by the Aspen Institute, up to 23 million renters will face eviction by September if the situation doesn’t change.

 Prof. Benfer compared the high number of evictions taking place now in four months to the aftermath of the 2008 foreclosure crisis that resulted in 10 million evictions that took place over several years.

Kumar Barve, a legislator in the State of Maryland House of Delegates, sounded a particularly dark note, warning that if this wave of evictions came to pass, then the United States could have “a revolution” on its hands with consequences befalling us all that would be graver than those faced in losing one’s home or business.

“This is a social welfare issue at this point because evicting 10% of the population would be a humanitarian catastrophe, the likes of which would take us a very long time to recover from,” Barve said.

All of the speakers, who were in attendance shared the contention that this eviction tsunami would be most adversely felt by minority communities in the U.S. Even before the pandemic, Black and Latino Americans were already suffering from higher rates of financial instability, homelessness and unemployment, but with this eviction wave on the horizon, the pain will only increase.

Dr. Margo Kushell, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, expects that Americans of color will be hurt most by mass evictions which can push them into settings, like homeless shelters, where the virus spreads more easily.

 “We are anticipating at the very worst [that] we possibly could have dramatic increases in homelessness,” Dr Kushell warned.

Nisha Vyas, a senior attorney at the Western Center for Law and Poverty, said that communities of color are now facing eviction, as a result of structural difficulties that were already in place before the pandemic.

She cited reports from clients in California that tenants are being pressured by landlords, sometimes through illegal methods, to pay rent or face eviction. This would be in spite of a state-wide moratorium on evictions that was recently extended through September by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Vyas expressed confidence that state and local governments are taking the necessary steps to prevent more evictions, particularly with a bill going through California’s lower house called Eviction Prevention and Housing Stability Act. The bill would give tenants “a fair chance to pay rent, pay back rent owed and... protections … from negative impacts to their credit that would affect their ability to rent in the future.”

Without similar measures being passed, Vyas is clear about the consequences.
“When the rule is withdrawn and we allow evictions to simply start again without any long term assistance, it's going to have a devastating impact on renters, and in particular on communities of color.


Nicholas Morgan contributes articles and reports of special interest to East Palo Alto Today.