Dec 14

Eviction: A Looming Pandemic for Black Americans

by Mary Blair | 12/14/2020 10:17AM | Racial Justice

Mary Blair

Mary Blair

Mary Blair is a Fulbright alumna and recent graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied Political Science and Comparative Race & Ethnic Studies. Mary completed the Shriver Fellowship for Leadership in Public Service through the Sargent Shriver Peace Institute and the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago. At present, Mary works with a social impact and data analysis organization based in Dakar, Senegal.

Losing your home and possessions and often your job; being stamped with an eviction record and denied government housing assistance; relocating to degrading housing in poor and dangerous neighborhoods; and suffering from increased material hardship, homelessness, depression, and illness - this is eviction's fallout. Eviction does not simply drop poor families into a dark valley, a trying yet relatively brief detour on life's journey. It fundamentally redirects their way, casting them onto a different, and much more difficult, path. Eviction is a case, not just a condition, of poverty.” –Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

As COVID-19 continues to run rampant in the United States, and amidst ongoing uprisings in response to police violence, many Black Americans are bracing themselves for yet another crisis: eviction.  A new report by the Aspen Institute estimates that between 19 and 23 million Americans will face eviction due to effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and of that number, approximately 80% are Black or Latinx. These discrepancies highlight that while we all may be weathering the same COVID storm, we are by no means in the same boat. 

Local and federal governments have done little to protect those affected by the oncoming eviction crisis. The Center for Disease Control and Department of Health and Human Services issued a federal moratorium on evictions that will last until December 31, 2020, but this does little to appease the oncoming eviction crisis—it simply delays it. The moratorium does not mean that landlords cannot issue eviction notices; it simply means that evictions cannot be enforced until the moratorium concludes. On a more local level, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a ban on evictions through October 22, 2020, but that has not prevented landlords from filing eviction cases in court. Despite the ban, landlords have filed over 3,000 eviction cases since March. Once this ban is eventually lifted, these households will not have protections. These shortsighted policies leave communities of color particularly vulnerable, as 60% of Black Chicagoans are renters. On a national level, nearly a third of all renters in the United States are Black (while Black people only make up about 13% of the population). With almost a quarter of American households having lost income due to COVID-19, temporarily banning evictions only postpones a devastating wave of homelessness, and it is bound to hit Black and Latinx communities the hardest.

Evictions are devastating in a number of ways. Not only do they uproot families from their communities, but those who are evicted are also more likely to lose their jobs and are at a higher risk for suicide. Evictions also come with a court record, which make it incredibly difficult to find housing after an eviction. An eviction is not a one-time bump in the proverbial road of life; it is a traumatizing and violent experience that drastically changes the trajectory of one’s life. The impacts of this eviction crisis will follow us for decades.

The eviction crisis is one of the many ways that the COVID-19 crisis, in tandem with systemic white supremacy, is devastating Black American communities. Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at rates much higher than other racial groups, and there has been an ongoing mainstream conversation about police violence towards Black Americans. What these conversation sometimes seem to overlook is how all of these disparities are intrinsically linked. Black people being more likely to die from COVID-19 and police violence, and Black people being facing more barriers to stable and affordable housing, are all part of the racial capitalism that is deeply engrained in the American societal structure. Committing ourselves to racial justice means committing ourselves to dismantling all of these systems.

When we say that Black Lives Matter, recognize that is not only an affront to police violence—it is a contestation to all of the violent ways that American society continues to disregard, devalue, and actively dispose of Black life. It is just as much about equal access to stable housing and healthcare as it is about bringing an end to the police state.  As we work to build a world in which Black life truly matters, we must confront the ways in which eviction and unstable housing present yet another imminent threat to Black life.

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