As the world continues to face a public health crisis, many Black American families are facing what could be one of the greatest disturbances in housing security. Last week the federal eviction moratorium ended without a provision in sight. In the coming weeks, that could leave millions in housing limbo.
“For this year, 2021, about 11 percent of white families were behind on their rent, compared to roughly 26 percent of African Americans who were behind on their rent,” says Christian Wheeler, a professor of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Furthermore, more than half of all African American households rent an apartment or a house, while less than a third of white households rent. “So you have two problems going on,” Wheeler adds. “You have a lot more renters among African Americans, and many of those renters are struggling because of the disproportionate effect that the pandemic has had on Black households.”
Though the implications of ending the moratorium are widely known, Congress recessed last week without coming to a firm decision on what should happen to those families who have been unable to make ends meet throughout a pandemic that has affected everything from health to housing to childcare. On Saturday, Congresswoman Cori Bush, a newly-elected Democrat representing Missouri’s 1st District, began sleeping overnight on the Capitol steps to bring attention to the decision that has many families in fear of being unhoused.
Wheeler describes the quickly emerging housing crisis to a single game piece of what has quickly become a domino effect. “One person loses a job, the other one is sort of in a public-facing job in a grocery store or in a hospital or home care situation. They keep working but then they get sick or bring the disease home to their family if they get sick. You have less income. You have higher childcare costs. You have additional health care costs for you or your family and potentially long-term health care costs because of COVID.” Though it’s a general anecdote, all of those setbacks come together to create a balloon for many American households. “Eventually the balloon pops and people can't pay their rent anymore.”
While the ending of the eviction moratorium crosses color and gender lines, African Americans, who make up a large percentage of the nation’s renters, are more inclined to feel the disruption. In a place like New York City, where a little over two-thirds of New Yorkers own their home, the current situation is posing a crippling conundrum.
“The impending housing crisis must be addressed in terms of affordability and income,” says Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League. “Support at the state and federal level for affordable housing must be increased. But at the same time we cannot ignore the disparity in income and wealth for African Americans in this City.”
New York has extended its moratorium through the end of August, but Rice is careful to point out that the housing issue will persist as long as workforce development is not addressed. New York Urban League is working on increasing income through entrepreneurship and developmental programs, while also providing safe, affordable housing, says Ward Corbett, New York Urban League’s Board Chair. “As economic first responders, Urban League affiliates around the country are keeping people in their homes with emergency rental assistance, intervention and counseling.”
Safe, affordable housing has always been at the heart of the National Urban League’s mission and its affiliates in 90 communities around the country, but the organization believes there are efforts that the city, and federal government as a whole, can make to address the ongoing issue.
“First, we must have a reset of federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit funding levels in the wake of federal tax reform,” says Rice. "Second, New York must enact policies to force compliance with state requirements for affordable housing in communities that currently fall below the threshold and are defined as areas of opportunity. Lastly, the City and State must develop regional and statewide systems of access that facilitate access to waitlists, admission criteria, and applications.”
As the country looks to Congress for help, Black renters remain perplexed about what comes next.