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Evictions to racial equity: Calls for 'immediate' Biden action on housing

by Carey L. Biron | @clbtea | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 20 January 2021 18:03 GMT

Tenants and housing rights activists protest for a halting of rent payments and mortgage debt as sheriff's deputies block the entrance to the courthouse, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., October 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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Renters facing eviction call on U.S. President Biden to tackle the 'worst housing crisis since the Great Depression'

By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON, Jan 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Shaye Awwad is worried she could get kicked out of her Kentucky home at the end of the month, and she is looking to newly inaugurated U.S. President Joe Biden to do something about it.

Awwad has been unable to find work during the pandemic, and starting in August her landlord tried to get her to move out, she told reporters on a call organized this week by advocacy group People's Action.

While a federal moratorium on evictions did give her temporary protection, she said, that rule was set to expire next week.

"Millions of people like myself are on the precipice of being without a home in the midst of a global pandemic," said Awwad, who lives in the city of Lexington.

Biden, who was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, has pledged to extend the eviction moratorium at least through March and to provide financial assistance to tenants struggling to pay their rent.

Some say that does not go far enough: People's Action and dozens of affiliated groups on Tuesday sent a letter to the Biden administration urging the outright cancellation of rent, including rental debt.

But beyond the immediate crisis brought on by the pandemic, they have called on the government to take broader housing action such as tackling the affordability crisis that has gripped the country.

Doing so could have an outsize impact on a key Biden priority: racial equity.

The new administration needs to use a "racial equity lens" in all of its housing-related actions, said Demetria McCain, president of the Inclusive Communities Project, a Texas-based nonprofit.

That includes "ridding jurisdictions of racially exclusionary housing policies, and addressing the many harms that continue to exist due to systemic discrimination and segregation," McCain said in emailed comments.

More than half of Black renters came into the new year with rental debt, said Kalima Rose, vice president for strategic initiatives with PolicyLink, a California-based research institute.

"The Biden administration needs to push off the immediate threat because it's so dangerous to face eviction during a pandemic, and then to make big-picture investments to make housing a human right and deliver on racial equity," Rose said.

Rose and her colleagues are pushing Biden to roll back Trump administration changes that halted the gathering of data on those struggling to pay rent, disqualified immigrant families from housing subsidies if one member was undocumented, and weakened housing protections for transgender people.

The group is also urging the new administration to invest $200 billion in creating permanently affordable homes.

"We're in the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression," Rose told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"So it's a moment where the Biden administration could come in and really invest in game-changing programmes. That's the opportunity."


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Unaffordable rental housing may be 'new normal' in the United States 


(Reporting by Carey L. Biron @clbtea, Editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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