The COVID-19 pandemic is more than sickness. It’s an economic struggle that may put millions out of their homes.
A reality of our national struggle with this pandemic is that we just haven’t seen yet the full depth of its impact on our economy. Some of the struggle it is causing remains hidden, but one of those struggles is so serious and threatens such lasting harm that we must deal with it as a country before the year is out.
We are talking about the real possibility of people losing the roofs over their heads at the turn of the year, when a federal moratorium on evictions is set to lift. The problem — which at this writing has no solution — threatens to put millions of people across the country out of their homes. That includes thousands of renters and possibly tens of thousands by one estimate in the city of Dallas alone.
The cold facts, reported this week by the Wall Street Journal, are these. More than 20 percent of black tenant households are behind on rent. Nearly 20 percent of Asian and Hispanic tenant households are in the same circumstance. White tenant households are approaching 10 percent. Some 12.8 millions renters will owe, on average, more than $5,000 each on back rent by year’s end.
It’s time to ask what will happen to these households if some assistance is not forthcoming. Landlords will not, and should not, be forced to bear the financial burden of housing tenants who cannot pay. That wouldn’t solve the problem anyway. It would just force property owners into bankruptcy and lead to even deeper economic problems.
The negotiations between the Trump administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to reach a second stimulus package stalled in the electoral muck.
When negotiations are resumed, the question of rental assistance and an extension of the moratorium must be a top consideration. This is not a question of Big Government. It is a question of avoiding an economic and social disaster that will only create worse and more costly outcomes down the road.
Mark Melton, a Dallas attorney leading a pro bono effort to help people avoid eviction, told us that local justice of the peace courts are filled daily with people trying to avoid eviction. Hundreds of people a week, thousands a month, are housed now only because of the federal moratorium and rental assistance they are receiving. Many of these are people who lost work or lost shifts at the work they have.
Putting these people — and their children — on the streets is no solution. Negotiations and politics in Washington make for great cable news theater. But they threaten real and lasting harm if the two sides cannot come together and reach an agreement.
Let’s hope, when the election storm is passed, a calm will prevail that will see business done, for the sake of those who could be homeless and for the sake of us all.
—DALLAS MORNING NEWS