There has been much written about COVID-19’s disproportionately negative impact on St. Louis’ Black community, like communities of color across the country. With the looming end of increased unemployment payments and the reopening of the court system, we stand a few months out from what many experts believe will be a wave of evictions that is unlike any in living memory.
Only 12 years after a housing crisis that precipitated a significant (and continuing) decline in Black homeownership levels, we face another housing crisis – one that stands to again cause the mass destabilization and displacement of Black households. This time, renters will likely face the brunt of the pain.
COVID-19 has caused mass layoffs in the service sector, especially in lower-wage jobs that often are held by people of color. People face losing their homes, but not over some kind of poor personal decision. Instead, history, the coronavirus and a lack of government action have created an environment where families face displacement and landlords face missed mortgage payments. Everyone loses – but, again, those losses won’t be distributed equitably.
Tenants who are evicted will face long-term consequences. An eviction will follow the tenant for years. Even just the record of an eviction filing against tenants is held against them, no matter the outcome or details of the case. It will restrict their options on where to live, limiting them to paying too much for substandard housing.
Aggressive tenant screening programs will make it extremely difficult for these tenants to access apartments in many neighborhoods, even after an eventual recovery of income. This will reinforce the region’s status quo of racially segregated neighborhoods. In turn, this will continue to drive the intergenerational racial inequities that plague our region and nation.
While it is impossible to know the exact scale of the coming wave of evictions, at least we know it is coming. That means that we have the ability to prepare.
On a federal level, we need significant funds dedicated for emergency rental assistance. Locally, we need to allocate significant funds for rental assistance and eviction prevention strategies including mediation programs and legal advocacy for tenants. Some of that is already happening.
In addition to the funding, it is incumbent that we take the time to create systems that bring landlords, tenants and available resources all to the same table. We need a system that efficiently and effectively spends emergency rental assistance dollars, while preventing the filing of eviction cases against tenants.
Times of crisis call for leadership, and this issue is in desperate need of attention. If we wait for the expected wave to form, it will be too late to help many families. We need to spend the dwindling time afforded by the patchwork of federal moratoriums to put together a system to efficiently deploy resources that will minimize the pain and suffering of families, many of whom lost their incomes due to this worldwide pandemic.
As we know that the negative economic impacts of the pandemic are disproportionately impacting Black families, our response needs to be centered on and grounded in racial equity. If we are to respond to this crisis in a manner that doesn’t increase inequities, then we need to understand how the deck is already stacked against Black folks.
After that, we need local officials to turn that understanding into actionable programs and strategies that can help us come out of this crisis with a stronger, more united and more equitable St. Louis region.
Will Jordan is executive director of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council.