Join Hafta-Ichi to Research the article “‘Biggest thing to happen to renters since WWII’: why Matthew Desmond is optimistic about housing | US news”
The already acute eviction crisis in the US has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis, which has put 30 to 40 million Americans at risk of eviction.
But one of the top eviction experts in the US, Matthew Desmond, has found inspiration and optimism in how housing activists have mobilized in response to the crisis and seen their bold policy ideas turned into policy in return.
Desmond’s Pulitzer prize-winning book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City followed eight families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, struggling to keep their housing. In 2017, he founded the Eviction Lab, which created America’s first national eviction database.
“What the pandemic did is reveal just how many American renters are living incredibly close to an eviction notice,” Desmond told the Guardian.
The revelation has given way to a rapid shift in government support for social safety net policies believed to be unthinkable in the US in recent decades, such as eviction moratoriums.
Some politicians have even introduced legislation to reflect the movement to cancel rent for everyone during the pandemic, which was inspired by protests and rent strikes in major cities this spring. The movement aims to also carve out a fund for independent landlords who don’t benefit from tax breaks and subsidies made available to large firms.
Desmond said the cancel rent campaign, as well as tenant mobilization movements born out of the 2008 recession, are “not just trying to promote renter rights and protections, but really trying to get Americans to think hard about: is our current system built on a sandy foundation?”
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a moratorium on most evictions for non-payment of rent to last to the end of the year, citing public health concerns because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
It followed an eviction ban Congress signed into law in late March to run through late July. Most states, and some cities, also had their own temporary eviction bans in place during this period and a few have been extended.
The most recent federal moratorium has been criticized because it is being inconsistently enforced and renters will owe the back rent when the moratorium expires, but Desmond said it is “an unequivocally important thing”.
“I would argue it’s the biggest thing to happen to renters since the rent freezes in World War II,” Desmond said. “It’s going to save lives, it’s a big deal.”
Desmond explained how at the beginning of the pandemic, housing organizers in New York City suggested a local eviction moratorium and were laughed at and told it was impossible.
“And then they did it in New York, and then North Dakota and then almost everywhere else,” Desmond said. “So to move from a place where we’re like, ‘we can’t have an eviction moratorium in a blue state or a city that has the most renting households’ to a place where the nation has one is a big move.”
In some ways, the situation in the US has become so dire the country’s only option was to force change. Desmond said that the affordable housing crisis has never been as acute as it is today.
Before the pandemic hit, about 3.7m evictions were filed in the US in an average year – that’s about seven evictions each minute. Most poor renting families spent at least half of their income on housing costs and about one in four of those families spent more than 70% of their income on housing costs.
And when those facts collided this year with an economic recession which disproportionately affects people of color, women and low-wage workers, activists were quick to respond.
Desmond said the current level of aggressive tenant mobilization echoes what happened after the Great Depression, when activism paved the way for major changes in US housing law.
“That isn’t to say nothing has happened since the Great Depression, a lot has has, but it was a moment of real tenant activism and action, and so what came out of that? Literally public housing and rent control came out of that,” Desmond said. “So I do think we’re seeing a real resurgence and it has deep echoes to the tenant mobilization in the 1940s.”
This mobilization is also coinciding with the largest sustained protests against racial injustice in decades.
In the months before those protests began, the country’s biggest demonstrations had been about rent. There was overlap between those activists and the ones who took to the streets against systemic racism after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
“Housing has been such a deep mechanism in America for institutionalized racism,” Desmond said, pointing to the fact that most white families in the US own their homes and most Black and Latino families don’t.
“Just by that alone, which is the product of historical legacies and the systematic dispossession of people of color from the land, you have a group of folks that are just massively, disproportionately exposed to the eviction crisis,” Desmond said. “And one of the calls that kept coming up when people talked about a radical rethinking of public spending to promote public safety was housing, housing, housing.”
Desmond said housing is the country’s main driver of inequality and that returning to the way things were before the pandemic would be unacceptable.
“Going back to normal is like going back to a situation where the entire population of Seattle is threatened with eviction every month, that’s normal,” Desmond said. “There are reasons to be optimistic and there are places to find real inspiration, and I think that for me to see the building organization on the ground with tenant movements is a place for real inspiration. And to see many of their like bold ideas turned into federal policy, I think that’s reason for inspiration – there’s also real deep reasons for concern.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Biggest thing to happen to renters since WWII’: why Matthew Desmond is optimistic about housing | US news