Letter to Elected Officials on the COVID-19 Eviction Crisis

This template was written sometime in August of 2020.

Dear [INSERT NAME OF ELECTED OFFICIAL],

My name is Eddie Ryan and I am a constituent of yours in Illinois. In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other innocent Black Americans and People of Color, and in the midst of a global pandemic that disproportionately punishes our Black and Brown communities, I am deeply concerned about the looming housing crisis. I write today to urge you towards every action in your power to combat this impending catastrophe so as to protect Black and Brown communities and other vulnerable Americans from its certain economic consequences and its implications of voter suppression.

As a result of the severe economic consequences of COVID-19, the United States could soon face the most drastic housing crisis in its history. Without sufficient action, more people will lose their homes in a shorter period of time than ever before, with a potential 20 to 28 million facing eviction by early fall and a total of 30 to 40 million in this position by the end of the year. This could pose health risks in addition to wreaking economic havoc, as homeless shelters often house a high proportion of COVID-susceptible individuals in non-optimally close quarters. The current pandemic has functioned as an accelerant of a housing crisis long in the making: prior to the pandemic, half of US renters spent over 30% of their incomes on housing and 20% spent over half, glaring statistics for a supposedly robust economy. Now, with nearly one-third of Americans having failed to make a housing payment in both May and June, the deeply embedded systemic racism at work in this country is once again exposed. Members of Black and Brown communities are disproportionately rent-burdened, likely to be infected with COVID-19, and likely to lose their jobs, each of which sets them with an outsized chance of facing eviction.

At such a decisive moment, many Black Americans and our nation’s most vulnerable desperately need bold action to curb the impending tsunami of evictions. The economics of this pandemic have become quite clear: when faced with lockdown, a consequent inability to work, and the loss of income, people simply need cash to buy food and pay their rent. Measures like Congress’ CARES Act in combination with a patchwork of federal, state, and local eviction moratoriums have actually served this purpose adequately, despite persistent flaws, and substantial rent assistance and an eviction moratorium are overall the core of what is needed. These efforts have simply not been deployed on a scale of sufficient magnitude, as financial assistance and unemployment benefits have shrunk and many of the moderate number of states and cities that implemented eviction moratoriums have allowed them to expire. Moreover, many people whose evictions were put off by the moratorium were not provided with substantial rent assistance, meaning they simply built up back-rent debt as they waited for the moratorium to expire and their eviction to be enforced. I strongly urge you to demand a universal, federal eviction moratorium that covers all renters — not just the roughly 30% receiving federal assistance or on properties with federally-backed mortgages — and to provide significantly more rent assistance to every low-income, unemployed American for the entire duration of this pandemic. No matter how much money is provided to workers in need during this pandemic, it will be money saved in the long run given the immediate, stimulating benefits offered to our crippled economy.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s recent executive order concerning evictions is virtually meaningless. Despite his insistence that his administration will not allow evictions and foreclosures to occur from pandemic-related financial hardship, the order failed to directly resolve any relevant issues. Instead of unilaterally halting evictions, Trump’s directive stipulates that executive agencies should “consider” whether stopping evictions to protect renters should constitute a “reasonably necessary” measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, it directs the Secretaries of the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development to identify federal funds to serve as financial assistance for renters without determining any functional mechanism for actually appropriating such aid; neither Secretary Mnuchin nor Secretary Carson have offered such a mechanism when pressed. Finally, the order neglects to extend the CARES Act’s federal eviction moratorium, which itself was limited in scope and expired on July 24th. Without true, meaningful, and immediate assistance for renters — namely, a total federal eviction moratorium with $100 billion in federal rent assistance and $11.5 billion in emergency homelessness resource funding as advocated by the National Low Income Housing Coalition — tens of millions of people will lose their homes and the US will enter a new domain of economic catastrophe.

Such a scenario could have disastrous consequences for voting with just a few months before the presidential election. Though homeless people possess the right to vote, registration almost always depends on having a permanent address. Most states require people to actively register themselves to vote, and even in the 19 states with new automatic-registration programs, the process is inevitably tied to one’s place of residence. Additionally, those who are evicted often forget to update their official address at the time due to other, obvious concerns, another item which can preclude the evicted from voting if they leave the task of updating their address until Election Day. The homeless additionally cannot receive mail-in ballots without an address, may lack the means to acquire the sort of Photo-ID necessary to vote in some states, and are frequently turned away from the polls by inexperienced workers despite their legal authority to cast a ballot. Ultimately, in a year in which large, crowd-style registration activities have been rendered unsafe by the pandemic and cash-strapped county agencies have been forced to close polls due to worker shortages, the added obstacles posed to voting by the impending eviction crisis cannot be afforded. As Black Americans, Hispanics, and other minority groups are disproportionately faced with eviction and homelessness, a failure to confront this issue would exacerbate existing inequalities by allowing for widespread voter suppression to occur.

As your constituent and as a supporter of Black Lives Matter, I urge you to do everything in your power to fight for the actions needed to prevent a massive housing crisis that would hit Black Americans disproportionately hard. Without an immediate federal eviction moratorium that applies to every American renter and a significant increase in the appropriation of financial assistance to renters, both of which must continue unabated until the pandemic is over, this country will experience an unmatched wave of evictions and foreclosures, low-income and unemployed workers will pile up rent-debt through no fault of their own, and millions of marginalized Americans could lose their ability to vote in November. Thank you for your time in reading this email and for your work to protect Americans throughout the pandemic thus far, and I hope that you will strongly consider the provisions outlined above.

Sincerely,

Eddie Ryan

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Eddie Ryan

History and Economics major, Spanish and Philosophy minor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Elmhurst, Illinois.