While the Pelosi and Schumer-led Democrats and Mnuchin and Meadows-led Republicans continue their staredown to see who will be the first to flinch, millions of Americans are facing the life-shattering possibility of being evicted from their homes or rental properties. Just imagine someone knocking on your door with an eviction notice telling you to vacate your living space. You may have children. You may have accumulated many possessions over the years. You have no resources to store your belongings. You’re going out onto the street. Sounds dire? Bet your sweet tuchus it is. But that’s what life is or will be for thousands of Americans who did all the right things—finished school, got married, are raising kids.
This will be their American nightmare because the country was hit with a pandemic while under the leadership of a very disturbed individual. Our President put on quite a show issuing executive orders that he said would supersede the need for congressional intervention. The problem is his orders were not worth the paper they were written on. There will be no reprieve for individuals and families facing eviction.
It is estimated up to 40 million Americans could face eviction in the coming weeks and months. We are talking about levels of homelessness not seen since the Great Depression. There is probably nothing Congress can do to save them all. The federal government acted quickly to flood corporations with cash to keep them afloat. They need to do the same to keep families—particularly those with children—with roofs over their heads. Congress needs to extend the CARES Act with additional funding for housing assistance. Not surprising, people of color will be hit hardest by the impending eviction tsunami.
Until Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond created the Eviction Lab, there was no system for tracking the number of evictions occurring throughout the nation. The MacArthur “Genius” Award winner, tracked eight families in Milwaukee as each struggled to keep a roof over their heads. His Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, was a New York Times bestseller and a personal favorite of former President Barack Obama. Backed by several funders, including the Gates and Ford Foundations, the Eviction Lab’s innovative website provides publicly-available data and information about residential instability, forced moves, and poverty.
Providing affordable housing for all Americans has been an enduring challenge. Even before the pandemic, more than half a million Americans were without a stable place to call home on any given night. Some doubled up with relatives and friends. An increasing number were living in their cars. These include families with children, veterans, and a significant number of unaccompanied youth. It is estimated that 25 percent of the homeless has a severe mental illness and nearly half have some type of mental problem.
In this time of racial awakening we have learned to expect that most, if not all, social ills disproportionately impact Americans of color. Mass evictions and homelessness will devastate brown and black communities. Dr. Desmond knows a lot about the racial aspects of poverty and homelessness having authored two books on the subject including Race in America, co-authored with Dr. Mustafa Emirbayer, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where Desmond received his PhD in 2010.
It was only a matter of time before our inability to provide affordable housing for all Americans would collide with another public catastrophe. We obviously did not learn much from Hurricane Katrina. Even before the pandemic began, homelessness was a major problem in this country with thousands of Americans without stable housing. Before we blame the evil, greedy landlords who are too quick to force people onto the street—and there are many—some landlords are in the same boat as their tenants. They depend on the rent they receive from tenants to pay the mortgage on their homes.
I am among the fortunate. I own my residence so I am not in danger of being evicted. I filed for unemployment two months ago and I am still waiting for the first payment. Thank God for Social Security which Trump and his minions would like to bankrupt by eliminating the payroll tax. Otherwise I could easily be homeless. I am able to sequester in my abode escaping the COVID-19 virus as best I can. I pray for the millions of Americans who are not as blessed as I am.