How the United States Chose to Become a Country of Homelessness

Proponents have been sounding the alarm for months – issuing reports, issuing press releases and warning politicians as more Americans who have been made unemployed by the pandemic have defaulted on their rent. Now that the warnings are not being heeded, the United States is facing an unprecedented homelessness crisis that is as predictable as it is preventable.

I first saw signs of this impending catastrophe on May 26th when the New York City markets roared – the Dow rose 530 points and the S&P hit an 11-week high. But in San Diego, Rudy and Christina Rico rummaged in a blue recycling barrel on the street. The couple, married for 37 years, hoped to scrape together $ 50 worth of bottles and cans. It meant dinner.

“I never thought I’d walk through trash cans for money,” Rudy told me as I walked down the driveway of a friend’s house where I isolated myself. “But you have to eat.” A mockingbird in a queen palm filled the silence that followed. Rudy was a landscaper until the pandemic broke out and he lost his job. He and Christina now lived out of their car. They had never been homeless before. Christina thought I would come to admonish her. “Some people get angry,” she said.

The Ricos were among the earliest waves of a crisis that has emerged since the first days of the coronavirus pandemic. As early as April, after lockdowns brought the economy to a standstill, news outlets issued warnings: “31% cannot pay the rent:” It will only get worse, “said one New York Times Heading; “Rent is due today, but millions of Americans aren’t paying,” the NPR website said the following month.

By August, a group of experts representing some of the country’s leading housing rights organizations – including the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project – came to a dire conclusion. In a white paper titled “The Covid-19 Eviction Crisis”, the consortium estimated that “in the absence of robust and rapid intervention, an estimated 30 to 40 million people in America could be at risk of eviction in the next few months”. The authors warned that “the United States may face the worst housing crisis in its history,” adding that people of color “make up about 80% of the people who are evicted.”

Tens of thousands of Americans were displaced in the months that followed; Landlords have filed more than 162,500 eviction notices in the 27 cities it tracks, according to the Eviction Lab. However, the worst of the crisis has so far been averted by a patchwork of state moratoriums, which in turn have been complemented by a patchwork of federal efforts. In March, Congress passed a temporary eviction moratorium under the CARES Act. After this period, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) introduced their own temporary moratorium in September. Most recently, as part of the stimulus package passed at the end of December, Congress granted states and municipalities US $ 25 billion in rental support and extended the eviction moratorium to January 31. The tenants breathed a sigh of relief.


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