Conversations about COVID: How the pandemic could increase homelessness in 2021
PROVIDENCE, RI [Brown University] – January 31, 2020, occupies an important place in the mind of Francesca Mari. This is the date that millions of Americans risk losing the roofs above their heads.
According to Mari – a journalist and Visiting Lecturer in Literary Arts at Brown University who recently published national reports on the rise of Wall Street owners, the housing transfer from individuals to private equity firms and the upward trend in business hire homeless people as housekeepers – said more than 30 million people in the United States could be at risk when a federal moratorium on evictions is lifted. For many, the moratorium, originally issued in September by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, was the one thing keeping them safe amid an economic recession. which has been accompanied by historic employment rates. loss.
But the pandemic, Mari said, is just the latest blow to America’s most disadvantaged tenants and landlords, who for decades have found themselves at the mercy of crooked business owners and lenders – actors who have taken hold. control of the housing market across the country as a result of poor zoning and financial policies at municipal, state and federal levels.
Just weeks before the planned lifting of the eviction moratorium, Mari answered questions about his journalistic background, increasing homelessness in the United States, and how the pandemic has shone the spotlight on a growing housing crisis in American cities. .
Q: How did you get started writing about housing and homelessness?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when I came back in 2016 the area had changed so much. House prices and rents had skyrocketed, and there was so much more homelessness. I got really interested in finding out what factors made it so expensive and why, in a city that considers itself one of the most progressive in the country, much of the housing policy was so conservative and even hypocritical.
I have seen alliances between strange bedfellows. Politicians who defined themselves as super progressive worked with people who were downright conservative, joining forces to oppose legislative measures to develop areas around transportation hubs. They wanted to prevent cities from building denser housing – like multi-story apartment buildings and duplexes – where it was needed most. They argued that this would negatively affect the appearance of the neighborhood or displace people. But failing to act ultimately displaces many more people.
Their opposition campaigns have worked, perhaps because owners are more likely to vote than non-owners. They vote because they have made this big investment in one geographic location, and they are motivated to maintain scarcity and keep the value of their property and assets as high as possible.
Q: How does zoning legislation relate to housing insecurity in cities?
Los Angeles is a good example of the strong connection here. In the 1960s, the city was zoned for 10 million homes. Now it’s zoned for around 4 million. As the city has swelled in size, the number of homeowners it has been zoned for has been cut by more than half. As a result, there is simply not enough housing – especially affordable housing like apartments – for everyone who lives there. The vacancy rate in Los Angeles is one of the lowest in the country; he’s hovered in the low single digits for years.
This is important because it offers tenants who do have housing less protection. If a city’s vacancy rate is high enough, landlords might be more lenient or generous to tenants who miss a month’s rent because they lost their jobs, because they don’t know if they can quickly find another tenant to occupy this apartment. But in a place like LA, landlords know there is so much demand for housing that they can always replace tenants quickly.
Q: What could this mean for financially insecure tenants when the moratorium on evictions is lifted?
Millions of tenants who might otherwise have been protected by the eviction moratorium could lose their homes as soon as the moratorium is lifted because their landlords know there is enough demand for housing to replace them.
When the CDC put in place the national moratorium on evictions in September, it seemed good for tenants, but in reality the policy was not so good. On the one hand, there was a heavily bureaucratic process that had to be followed: Tenants had to actually be aware of the moratorium, and they had to submit formal letters to landlords with documented proof that they had lost their income, otherwise they don’t get protection. On the other hand, the moratorium has not prevented deportation cases from going to court and obtaining decisions; it just kept the owners from carrying out decisions and evicting people, at least until the end of the year.
Renters aren’t the only ones at risk: this month, an estimated 6-8% of homeowners are participating in mortgage forbearance programs. Often homeowners are given a one-year grace period to catch up on payments, but in reality, it’s difficult for anyone to come up with a year of mortgage payments after a long period of unemployment. So next year we could see millions of people being evicted or pressured to sell their homes.