For black families, evictions are still at a critical point – despite the moratorium


It’s a simple fact. Black and brown families are more likely to be deported than white families. There are many reasons for this, but the pandemic has made matters worse and could widen the gap for years to come.

Aniya is a good example. She is an unemployed mother of two who is struggling to get by. At the end of this month, she must leave her two-bedroom apartment in Richmond, Virginia, and find a new place to live. This comes on top of an already difficult 2020. We have agreed not to use Aniya’s full name due to possible repercussions on her ability to find another place to live.

“My kids were coming home from school, trying to work. It was just a lot,” she says. “It was a lot of pressure on me, trying to figure out what we were going to do, given that now there was quite a change of life, a change of world, really.”

COVID meant that Aniya’s night shift at an Amazon warehouse was no longer practical, as her children’s daycare and school had been canceled. She had to homeschool the boys, whose father does not live with them.

Aniya has turned a corner of her living room into a mini classroom, complete with a colorful plastic table and chairs, stacks of books and posters with easy-to-read words for her 3- and 5-year-old boys. “Your rookie words,” she says, like “dream,” “happy,” “mom,” and “home.”

Aniya started struggling to pay her rent – ​​$650 a month – soon after she stopped working.

“After that was about, they sued me and tried to get me off the unit,” she says.

The 24-year-old mother was able to avoid eviction with the help of a lawyer and emergency rental assistance, which covered all the rent she owed, plus future payments. She was therefore surprised when she received a letter saying that her lease would not be renewed and that she had to vacate the apartment by February 28.

Aniya is not alone. National statistics aren’t available, but Princeton University’s eviction lab estimates more than a million tenants have been evicted during the pandemic, despite government moratoriums. Researcher Peter Hepburn says those affected, like Aniya, are disproportionately black.

“Black people make up about 21% of all tenants, but they make up 35% of all defendants in eviction cases,” he says.

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And those numbers don’t take into account all the tenants whose leases haven’t been renewed — something many landlords are allowed to do without cause — or who leave on their own to avoid eviction.

“Once you’ve been evicted, not even necessarily evicted, but just having that file in your file, it’s going to make finding your next apartment that much harder,” says Hepburn.

He says it’s a downward cycle, exacerbated by the pandemic. Black families are more likely to rent than own their homes and pay a greater share of their income when they rent. They also tend to have a smaller financial cushion to cover emergencies.

Now, during the pandemic, black people are more likely than white people to have lost their jobs and three times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19. Being expelled only increases those risksaccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Palmer Heenan, an attorney with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, handled Aniya’s case. He says most of his clients are black and Hispanic mothers, and their disadvantages keep piling up.

“It’s really disheartening,” Heenan said. “I recently had a client who was evicted who basically said to me, ‘How are my kids supposed to go to school if we live in my car? My car doesn’t have Wi- Fi.'”

Heenan says many of his clients already live in substandard housing, in neighborhoods lacking essential services like grocery stores and good schools. But if they lose their apartment, they often end up in a worse place.

Aniya says she took her apartment last year because it was so affordable and she needed a place to live. She and her children had been homeless for a few months, staying with friends.

But she soon saw her many flaws. She shows how she uses a rolled up towel to seal off a leaky sliding glass door that opens to her second floor balcony.

“I use it so our living room isn’t freezing,” she says.

The door doesn’t close either. Neither did her children’s bedroom windows. Not to mention the peeling paint, faulty fridge and bee infestation last summer. Dead bees can still be seen in the grooves under its windows.

We reached out to Aniya’s owner, KRS Holdings in Richmond, but they declined to comment for this story. Landlords often claim that they can’t maintain their properties if people don’t pay rent, and that if landlords go bankrupt, it will only make the lack of affordable housing worse.

Congress has approved $25 billion in rental assistance to deal with the crisis and plans $25 billion more.

But Lake Jaboa, a analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress says meeting the need isn’t enough.

“It still doesn’t even touch on back rent that’s owed. And we know again that back rent owed has a disproportionate impact on families of color,” she says. Recent census surveys have found that the share of Black, Hispanic/Latin, and Asian renters behind on their rent is significantly higher than that of White renters.

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A whopping 56% of black renters who are currently behind on their rent say they are likely to have to vacate their homes in the next two months because of the eviction.

“People take out loans, they use their credit cards, they sell their belongings” to avoid losing their homes, Lake says.

She worries about what will happen once the pandemic is over and these families find themselves saddled with debt. Having a bad credit rating can affect a person’s ability to find another apartment or even a job.

Congress and several states are exploring solutions, such as debt relief, expanding rent assistance — which also helps landlords — and removing eviction records from a tenant’s record.

In the meantime, Aniya has decided to move on. Her plan is to go live with relatives in North Carolina, so she can get back on her feet and start afresh.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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