Evictions, Race, and the Power of Community Mobilization
Due to intentionally racist policies that cause wealth disparities along racial lines to this day, Black and Brown Virginians already bear the brunt of gentrification, housing instability, and housing discrimination. At the best of times, housing can be unaffordable. Nationally, there are just 22 counties out of more than 3,000 where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair-market rent—and zero counties where they could afford a two-bedroom apartment. Virginia is regularly at the bottom of the list when it comes to ensuring its residents have a place to call home. In 2016 our capital city of Richmond had the second-highest eviction rate in the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic is turning an eviction crisis into a catastrophe. Nearly 1/8 of the state’s workforce has filed for unemployment. While wealthier residents may have supports to fall back on, the long-standing racial wealth gap means many communities of color do not. A recent Pew Research Survey showed that 77% of low-income U.S. residents and 73% of Black residents did not have emergency savings that would cover their expenses for three months.
The Supreme Court of Virginia recently enacted a moratorium on eviction proceedings in the Commonwealth until June 28. This good news is the result of many organizations (including LAJC), community groups, and individuals pressuring our elected officials to put a stop to a predicted tidal wave of residents facing the real possibility of homelessness in the midst of a health crisis.
But temporarily stopping evictions only pauses the problem. We still need to fix it.
Governor Northam has announced that a rent relief program is in the works, but it remains to be seen whether it will be large enough or targeted toward communities that need it most. Rent relief cannot be rushed. Virginia must take the time to hear from stakeholders and make sure the program provides meaningful and sustained relief to those who are most at risk of eviction and COVID-19. Meanwhile, tenants should not have to fear that the expiration of the Supreme Court’s order means homelessness is imminent.
We are inspired by the community mobilization that has swept across Virginia and the nation as a whole. We hope you will join the call for replacing racist systems with those that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes for all.