By Agatha So, Senior Policy Analyst, Economic Policy, UnidosUS
On January 20, the same day that he was inaugurated, President Joe Biden announced a series of executive actions aimed at addressing the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities across the country. One of those actions directed the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to extend protections against eviction for those struggling to pay rent because of COVID-19 until March 31, 2021.
However, according to a fact sheet from the National Housing Project, the eviction order does not protect tenants automatically. A tenant must sign a form and give it to their landlord, which would not allow a landlord to evict a tenant if they can’t pay the rent. In addition, the eviction order does not prevent eviction, it only delays it.
REAL PEOPLE ARE STRUGGLING
Diana Rodríguez, a 25-year-old mother and DACA recipient who lives in Chicago with her family, was struggling to pay rent. Diana has lived in the United States for the past 22 years, and last February she had stopped working to take care of her baby, right before the pandemic started. “In March, they started laying off my mom, my dad, everybody,” she says. Both her mother and brother work in the hospitality industry, which has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus.
Diana notes that her landlord held off on collecting rent for her family’s home, because he is aware that people were struggling, and they had a history of paying their rent on time. However, this wasn’t the same case for her brother.
“In his neighborhood, he said he received a letter from his landlord saying that it doesn’t matter if they don’t have money, they still need to pay their rent,” Diana explains.
UnidosUS Affiliate Gads Hill Center was able was able to help Diana and her family with rent in the aftermath of her family being laid off from their jobs. “We were struggling for a few weeks,” she explains. While Diana notes that she was able to receive a tax refund and a stimulus check, this wasn’t enough to help with expenses.
WHAT ABOUT RENTAL ASSISTANCE?
In December 2020, U.S. Census Bureau data showed that there are more than 10 million people like Diana’s family who are behind on rent and at risk of being evicted from their homes. Based on UnidosUS’s issues brief from September 2020, we know that Latinos and renters of color face barriers to accessing aid. Latino workers are also losing their jobs and income at a much higher rate than U.S. renters overall, which places our community at even greater risk of eviction and losing our homes.
The same month, Congress passed a COVID-19 relief bill that included $25 billion in emergency rental assistance to help tenants struggling to pay their rent and make ends meet. According to a fact sheet from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, rental assistance will be prioritized to help low-income renters, workers who qualify for unemployment benefits, or have lost income due to COVID-19, and can be provided to support a renter for up to 12 months. A renter or a landlord can apply for this assistance through their local government housing agency.
ENSURING NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND
UnidosUS applauds the efforts of the federal government to provide this assistance as quickly as possible to the most vulnerable communities in our country. However, we must ensure that this assistance reaches everyone in our community, including the millions of immigrant workers and mixed-status families who have been excluded from federal relief efforts. Last week, UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía testified before the House Committee on Financial Services, calling attention to the disproportionate harm our community is feeling because of the pandemic, and the urgency to provide more housing assistance and protection to ensure all who have been harmed can keep a roof over their heads and avoid eviction.
Last year, many Latinos faced barriers to getting the help they needed to pay rent. Even with eviction protections in place and rental assistance available, many Latinos in New York City, Miami, and Phoenix, for example, did not get this aid or relief because they lacked information, did not know they were eligible, were denied aid by local housing agencies, or were concerned that asking for help would impact their own (or someone in their family’s) pathway to citizenship.
Certain Latino communities may also be excluded from this next round of assistance. According to the aid program’s website, federal funding will be provided to states and local governments (including Washington, DC and Puerto Rico) with more than 200,000 residents. According to UnidosUS calculations of the rental assistance provided to California, where Latinos make up nearly 40% of the population and more than half of essential workers, the local governments eligible to receive federal funds may be able to create aid programs available to most of California’s population. However, because smaller communities, including less-populated rural areas, will not receive this assistance directly, UnidosUS estimates that up to 5% of essential workers and nearly 13% of the state’s non-White population may be left out.
In California and in communities across the country, state governments will need to provide their own funds to fill in where support is needed in these smaller communities. Since the pandemic outbreak, the economic downturn has dealt a huge blow to state budgets, leaving local governments in need of more federal resources to continue their own relief programs.
In response, UnidosUS will continue to call on Congress to deliver more federal relief and aid, and to ensure that all workers and their families can get this help, regardless of immigration status. UnidosUS also urges the federal government to work closely with state and local governments to ensure that the hardest-hit workers and families get the help they need to stay in their homes. For example, federal agencies like HUD and Treasury must guide local governments to partner with trusted, community-based organizations—including those our Affiliate Network—to ensure that Latino workers and their families who have been affected by COVID-19 can get the relief their need.