Why is This a Crisis?
Evictions are a nearly unreported threat to Americans, but an increasing population are experiencing them. It’s long been the standard that people should spend no more than 30% of a person’s income on housing. But a recent Harvard study found just over 21 million households spend more than 30% on housing. 11 million people were reported to be spending more than half their income on housing.
When families spend more on housing, they are forced to spend less on other items. Spending more than 30% on housing makes paying for basic needs like electricity, groceries, and clothing like buying a luxury item. Children and seniors are impacted more from this reality as they are the most vulnerable.
It makes other items we tend to take for granted, like internet access or cars, practically impossible to possess. While that may sound like less of a “need,” consider applying for a job. In this age it’s nearly impossible to apply for a job without the internet. It’s equally as hard to go to multiple interviews without a car.
Matthew Desmond wrote a book called “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” In the video linked here, he talks about the how big of an effect evictions have on American families.
Of that 1/4th that receives housing funding that Desmond mentions in the video, they have to endure long waits to actually receive that help. The remaining 3/4ths will likely continue on dangerous eviction cycle, which could last for the rest of their lives.
What Can be Done Right Now?
A problem as big as the eviction crisis can’t be bundled up in one solution. That said, there are many promising efforts. Desmond mentioned that people are at a disadvantage in eviction court, as they either don’t show or can’t afford a lawyer. New York City passed legislation to afford legal assistance to tenants. The move resulted in an 18% drop in evictions within a two-year span. The legislation has recently been picked up by Rep. Keith Ellison as a house bill (H.R. 1146), but not much has come of it the current congressional session.
In Desmond’s book, he championed the expansion for Section 8 voucher program. While I fully support that, there are serious issues. The biggest issue is that landlords can legally reject Section 8 voucher funding. This is a form of discrimination, plain and simple, but there still is hope. The Minneapolis city council passed legislation that prohibits landlords from rejecting Section 8 funding. This legislation need to be expanded on the state or federal level. City laws are a short-term fix as they can be overruled by the state law or withholding federal funds.
How to Take Action
First, there are many groups that have been doing great work in this effort. On Just Shelter, there are links to both local and national resources supporting the cause. Consider volunteering with a group to either assist families or spread the message in your community.
The biggest work that can be done is through our government. Long lasting and sustainable efforts will have to be done through policy. Find your local council-members and mayor and call them. Once you’ve done that, consider calling your congressional representatives, both in the U.S. House and Senate. Remember to stay calm and respectful. Chances are you going to speak to a college intern. They already have enough on their plate. That said, make sure you stress how important affordable housing is to you.
Lastly, we need to do what we can to convince the greater public that housing is a basic human right. People have the right to have a consistent place to sleep, eat, and live. Children and seniors have the right to a place that offers security from harmful elements. Housing doesn’t need to be lavish, but it does need to be there.