What averting a tsunami of evictions and fostering a culture of life have in common
Jul 27, 2020
Gloria, her husband Miguel, and their two children came to the United States two years ago fleeing extreme violence in their native Honduras. Then, Miguel was deported, and Gloria became the sole breadwinner in her family. When the pandemic struck, she had no choice but to keep working at a construction site. But then she tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, and Gloria became ill and was hospitalized. When she recovered and finished her quarantine, Gloria’s job was gone. Still, the bills had to be paid. She missed two rent payments. With the exception of some emergency assistance received from Catholic Charities, Gloria has no one and no safety-net to fall back on. She is not eligible for any unemployment benefits or a stimulus check. Now Gloria and her children are facing an eviction. She and her children will have no place to go.
The plight of Gloria and her children is not unique. Millions of families across our country find themselves at the edge of a financial cliff. They have lost their jobs and income. Some of them got seriously ill with the coronavirus. Now, they can see a tsunami of evictions looming on the horizon, and they are terrified what the future will bring. The African American and immigrant communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. They are also at a much higher risk of being evicted and trapped in the cycle of systemic poverty.
The estimates by the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center indicate there are about 292,000 rent-unstable households (42% of total renters), and 197,000 eviction filings that could take place over the next four months in Maryland. Montgomery County, for example, projects at least 13,000 households are currently rent delinquent and facing potential eviction without assistance. According to National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), people who are homeless and contract coronavirus are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die than others in the general public. People experiencing homelessness have limited access to preventive measures such as handwashing or home isolation.
The concerns about adequate housing are not just social or political issues but are also religious issues. Seeking justice for the poor and promoting the common good are essential elements of living out the Gospel.
Every Sunday, we profess our faith in God who came to dwell among us. Home is a powerful spiritual metaphor. A home is a safe place where we belong, live, and thrive. It is profoundly connected to a family. Losing a roof over one’s head deprives a family that which is central to its normal functioning. In his encyclical Centesimus Annus from 1991, Saint John Pope II talked about the family as “the sanctuary of life in which a human person receives his first formative ideas about truth, goodness and learns what it means to love and be loved and to be a person.” The Holy Father argued that the state has a special responsibility in helping to provide for the defense and preservation of the common good. That includes access to safe and affordable housing. “The family is at the heart of the culture of life,” wrote Saint John Paul II, who pointed out that, “to choose life is to promote an authentic human growth.” To continue with that Gospel-inspired logic, any social and political efforts to avert families losing their homes and to assure dignified housing are an essential part of the culture of life.
Unlike a tsunami or an avalanche in nature, the potential massive evictions in our society are not inevitable. Plenty of financial resources available. Yet, they are not always at the service of the common good. A new study by Americans for Tax Fairness found U.S. billionaires have added $700 billion to their personal wealth during the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic confronts us with the urgent need to reexamine our collective priorities and fiscal policies at the federal, state, and county levels. As followers of Jesus, we also need to be part of the solution, to be champions of equity and justice.
One such example is the recent letter from the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington to the Montgomery County Council in support of the proposal for an additional $20 million in eviction prevention funding. It also recognized the need for our state government to extend the moratorium on evictions until the end of the year.
Similar advocacy efforts are going on within other jurisdictions in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Catholics can put their faith into action by learning about these efforts and supporting them, including emergency COVID-19 protections for workers, renters and homeowners. We must also advocate at the federal level. It is clear that especially now as $600 unemployment payments are scheduled to end as of July 31, without sustained federal intervention, there will be a wave of evictions and a spike in homelessness across the country.
Concerned Catholics and other members of the community can check out the resources from National Low-Income Housing Coalition at https://nlihc.org/take-action and join their advocacy efforts in calling on Congress to include in a coronavirus spending bill $100 billion in emergency rental assistance, and eviction prevention to keep renters from falling off a financial cliff.
On Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 7 p.m., Catholic Charities will be offering an online workshop via zoom on Dealing with the Threats of Eviction During the Pandemic. To RSVP, email [email protected] .
May the Holy Spirit grant wisdom and courage to our national, state and local leaders to make political and fiscal decisions that would help avert the massive evictions and thus foster the culture of life.
And may we stumble upon the risen Christ as we journey along the path of charity and justice. Fear not to let in a stranger in need into the tent of your heart, and break the bread of your common humanity. Then, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, may your eyes, too, be opened, and your heart burn within you as you behold the one whose very name is MERCY.
(Father Jacek Orzechowski is a Franciscan friar of Holy Name Province. He currently directs Parish Community Organizing and Advocacy efforts at Catholic Charities.)
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