WASHINGTON-A concerning combination of economic factors exist that could lead to potential calamity for families in America. Between the gap of decent and livable wages people earn with the cost of decent rental housing across the country coupled with 3.5 million families facing eviction and the Treasury Department’s recent announcement that states and localities have only distributed 11 percent of the tens of billions of dollars in federal rental assistance, there is trouble on the horizon.
To add insult to injury, the United States Supreme Court ended the Biden administration’s Covid-related moratorium on residential evictions August 26. A coalition of landlords and real estate trade groups challenged the new moratorium brought by the Centers for Disease Control on Aug. 3, claiming it exceeded its authority in issuing the moratorium. This could send millions of families to the streets with no roof over their heads.
“The states have been slow to actually distribute the government funds,” Nina Shabazz, a master urban planner, told The Final Call. She’s a contactor with the Department of the Defense. “The government has been completely inept at distributing the funds to help pay the landlords because that’s what the funds were supposed to do. Just like businesses who received a loss of wages due to the pandemic, landlords were also eligible to receive funding from the government to offset losses almost like filing an insurance claim for losses,” said Ms. Shabazz. “What I’ve been seeing is a mixed bag of ineptitude,” she explained. “The states are so inundated, are so overwhelmed. They don’t have enough resources to respond. The federal level is not able to keep up with everything including passports. States are not able to adequately distribute the funds to the landlords that have experienced a loss of payment due to the pandemic,” added Ms. Shabazz.
The Biden administration allocated over $46 billion in rental relief. According to the Treasury Department, $5.1 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance has been distributed by states and localities through July, up from $3 billion at the end of June and only $1.5 billion by May 31.
There are 50 different programs, one in each state. Renters have to navigate a maze of rules and regulations to access funds. Barriers to access funds include first knowing the program even exists, many require an online application, renters must provide certain documentation, and the landlord must cooperate, agreeing to be a part of the process.
The National Apartment Association President and CEO Bob Pinnegar told the media the assistance rollout was “a disaster, marred with programmatic inefficiencies and difficulties.”
“Americans are hurting and we are on the edge of another financial cliff as distribution deadlines loom and the future availability of rental assistance funds is jeopardized,” he said.
In July, the National Low Income Housing Coalition documented in their annual report that throughout the pandemic, millions of renters were at grave risk of covid infection as they struggled to pay their bills and stay in their homes. Many accumulated rental debt because even before the pandemic, they could not afford their homes.
“Housing is a basic human need and should be regarded an unconditional human right,” said Diane Yentel, coalition president and CEO. “With the highest levels of job losses since the Great Depression and an ongoing global pandemic, low-income workers and communities of color were disproportionately harmed,” she said.
“The enduring problem of housing unaffordability requires bold investments in housing solutions that will ensure stability in the future. Without a significant federal intervention, housing will continue to be out of reach for millions of renters.”
The group’s report Out of Reach 2021 found that in no state, metropolitan area, or county can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a modest two-bedroom rental home, and these workers cannot afford modest one-bedroom apartments in 93 percent of U.S. counties.
“I live from paycheck to paycheck,” Jackson Davison told The Final Call. He works construction in D.C. and was hit hard by the pandemic. “When everything was shut down, I couldn’t work. I got behind in rent. I need the help the government has promised. Where is the help?”
Over 7.5 million extremely low-income renters are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing. Such cost burdens lead too often to housing instability and homelessness.
“These developments show us two things that are prevailing realities regarding the U.S. government: number one, misguided priorities. The government is willing to bail out huge banks and corporations because they say they’re too big to fail, yet millions of Americans, Black people in particular, caught up in the convulsions of the American economy since Covid cannot expect even a reasonable modicum of help,” Jamil Muhammad, program director of the Wedded Bliss Foundation that serves families in D.C. and around the country, told The Final Call. “Second is that the U.S. government has been notorious for the bait and switch. You told the Indians there’ll be treaties, and then you violate every single one of them. You tell the Sioux Tribe and the Dakotas they’ll be warm this winter, but their blankets were laced with smallpox. You tell Blacks in the Depression that they will be gainfully employed but institutions established during the New Deal only hired Whites. This government is behind redlining, restrictive covenants, gerrymandering, and other tools designed to keep and make Black people poor.”
Jamil Muhammad explained the answer for people struggling to find their way is to begin to control the economies in their communities, making them safe and decent places to live. “That doesn’t just mean us patrolling the streets or demanding certain behaviors by our youth. It means that we must think according to the economic direction given by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan,” he explained. “We must become owners. When we become the owners, we’re able to understand the symbiotic relationship between tenant and landlord. Neither of them is going anywhere without the other,” continued Jamil Muhammad.
“In other words, they need each other. But when we are seen as opposite polarized entities, sharing nothing in common, then there’s a battle in the marketplace. When the government says that there’ll be relief, but there is none, the level of frustration, tension in the society goes higher and higher.”
Ms. Shabazz agrees that tenants and landlords need to work better together to achieve similar results. Her advice is to put pressure on local government. “Say, ‘We elected you to protect us. We know there’s funds for every state to deal with us.’ You just have to put pressure on them. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. I think it’s good to do some research to see how much each state was designated because all of that is public information,” said Ms. Shabazz.
“Ask the landlord, ‘Mr. Landlord, have you received any payments to compensate you for the lack of rent?’ Some of them might not even know that they were supposed to get payments. If residents partner with the landlord, as opposed to viewing each other in an adversarial way, you could probably get more done,” she continued.
“Landlords have a right to be paid. That’s their livelihood. If they haven’t been paid, they could be facing foreclosure. I actually have friends trying to sell their apartment building, so they don’t go bankrupt.”
Meanwhile the recent Supreme Court ruling has dealt a severe blow to millions of renters impacted by the pandemic. At Final Call presstime, housing rights activists were scheduled to rally in front of the Supreme Court building to protest the ruling against the eviction moratorium.
“All eyes are on Congress. We demand that they take immediate action to legislate a new moratorium that is indefinite and covers 100% of the country. A moratorium enacted by Congress, as opposed to the CDC, would be shielded from a court challenge,” said Walter Smolarek, an organizer for Cancel the Rents, in a press release.