Evictions – the cause, and consequence, of poverty

March 27, 2021

By: Anish Advani

Losing your home is arguably one of the most distressing, soul-crushing human experiences. It negatively affects every aspect of one’s life – physical and mental health, relationships, marriages, business ownership, and employment. The temporary setbacks are extreme, but none more so than the crippling anxiety, burnout, and depression that come with losing your anchor. With millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, and some gaining unfathomable wealth in the past few decades, the dichotomy of the American economy has been responsible not just for the waves of homelessness we see today, but also further relegating the poor American into a cycle of debt, lack of resources and the compulsion of risk just to be able to survive poverty.

Humans have been evolutionally attached to space. Having a place you can call your own is a great source of autonomy, privacy and control, values that have served as pillars of the American psyche for centuries. The core incentive of the American dream was the pursuit of land ownership; a thriving middle class in the latter half of the 20th century fostered a significant home-owning population. Stark contrast to today’s environment, monopoly and monopsony only worsened, so too did the financial fabric of the United States. A combination of high down payments, monthly payments, and credit scores has rendered an overwhelming majority of millennials incapable of buying and maintaining a home. In 2016, millennials added to the data that reveals Americans move 7 times more than their similarly-wealthy counterparts.

More than a third of the population of the United States rents the space they live in, a sharp 31% increase in the rental rate since 2010. According to the same dataset, more than 40% of Americans pay over 35% of their income on rent, and it would take them 127 hours of work every week to be able to afford the average rent for a two bedroom apartment, at minimum wage. In Colorado, someone must make $26.45/hour or work 88 hours per week at minimum wage in order to afford a 2-bedroom apartment.The harsh reality is that we’re increasingly being squeezed out of our homes, with devastating consequences. 

A court ordered eviction can wreck not just every aspect of your present life, but also can lead to extreme financial events like bankruptcy, or an eviction record, that follows you around for years. It impacts one’s ability to find a new job, applying for new housing, or even getting a loan from a legitimate financial institution to alleviate themselves from the crisis. Banks have been able to get away with reverse redlining, balloon mortgages, negative amortization, abnormal prepayment penalties, and high interest rates; just some of the ways the system preys on desperate Americans attempting to finance their next home, pay off their next credit card bill, buy their life-saving medication or simply trying to put food on their tables. Keeping people in their homes reduces homelessness and enables them to get on their feet. 

The highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus has caused tremendous economic turmoil. With schools and businesses shutting down temporarily (and in some cases permanently), stay-at-home orders have crippled the economy and led to millions of job losses even within the first couple of months of the pandemic. And although the eviction moratoriums, means tested one time payments to Americans and extended unemployment benefits have helped to a degree, it has been clear ever since the start of the pandemic that our local, state, and especially federal governments in charge of the response have been averse to helping out ordinary Americans by putting money in their pockets and providing free healthcare, a stark contrast to their European counterparts. With unemployment rife and the CDC federal eviction moratorium being lifted on the 31st of March, many renters are facing the anxiety of losing their homes. A report from the governor’s task force on eviction prevention said between 150,000 and 230,000 households in the state of Colorado are at risk of being removed from their homes. The inequities that lead to these outcomes must be addressed. The ideal solution is housing for all, or housing that everyone has easy access to at the very least. But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t strive for incremental changes that address an ongoing housing and economic crisis. We must have one eye on the present, and the other on the future. It’s clear we need sweeping reforms to deal with the next crisis.

Evictions also disproportionately affect women, children, and BIPOC – they’re statistically more prone to renting and facing eviction. Eviction data from a 2018 Denver County Eviction Clinic bore this out. Of those who responded, 34% of the people involved were Black, 23% were Latino, and 35% of clients had a disability. There were close to 400 children that were directly impacted; this is as much a racial and social justice issue as any other. The devastation of losing your home as a kid is something we must ensure is far from reality for anyone in the richest country in the world. “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” [1] 

In the past, the poor working class has been disenfranchised and accused of being personally responsible for their evictions. They have also been gaslighted and duped into thinking less of themselves when they cannot afford next month’s rent, conveniently ignoring the fact that they’ve in reality been forced to submit to a system that never lets them breathe, never lets them take a single day’s rest, and never let’s them afford to have a bad day. I sincerely hope the people of our country have the shift in vision to ensure we have critical mass for the political mobilization we need at this moment. We must not just stop extreme poverty that’s responsible for evictions, we must also stop the evictions that are responsible for extreme poverty.

1. Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City