RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's a simple fact Black and brown families are more likely to be evicted than white ones. There are many reasons for this, but the pandemic has only made it worse. Here's NPR's Pam Fessler.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Take Aniya, a mother of two, unemployed, struggling to get by. By the end of this month, she has to leave her two-bedroom apartment in Richmond, Va., and find a new place to live. This on top of an already tough 2020.
ANIYA: My children being home from school, trying to work. It was just a lot. It was a lot of pressure on me, trying to figure out what we were going to do, being that now there was a whole life change - a world change, really.
FESSLER: COVID meant that her overnight shift at an Amazon warehouse was no longer practical, after her children's school and daycare were canceled. She's converted a corner of her living room into a mini classroom, with colorful plastic table and chairs, piles of books and posters with simple words for her boys, ages 5 and 3.
ANIYA: Things that kind of just are easier to learn, I guess you could say - your beginner words.
FESSLER: Like dream, happy and house. Aniya started to have trouble paying her rent, $650 a month, shortly after she stopped working.
ANIYA: After that, it was just pretty much - they were just filing lawsuits against me and trying to get me, basically, out of the unit.
FESSLER: She avoided eviction with the help of a lawyer and emergency rental assistance. It covered her back rent, even future rent payments. So she was surprised when she got a letter saying her lease would not be renewed.
ANIYA: That I needed to vacate by February the 28.
FESSLER: Aniya is hardly alone. National statistics are not available, but the Eviction Lab at Princeton University estimates that more than a million renters have faced eviction during the pandemic, despite a government moratorium. Research fellow Peter Hepburn says those affected, like Aniya, are disproportionately Black.
PETER HEPBURN: Black individuals make up about 21% of all renters, but they make up 35% of all defendants on eviction cases.
FESSLER: And that doesn't take into account all those whose leases aren't renewed or who leave on their own accord to avoid an eviction filing, which can have serious repercussions - the reason we've agreed not to use Aniya's full name.
HEPBURN: Once you've been filed against for eviction - you know, not even evicted necessarily, but just have that filing on your record - it's going to make finding your next apartment that much more difficult.
FESSLER: It's a downward cycle that Hepburn says hits Black families the hardest. They're more likely to rent rather than to own their homes and to pay a larger share of their incomes when they do. They also tend to have a smaller financial cushion for emergencies. Now with the pandemic, Blacks are more likely to have lost work and three times as likely as whites to be hospitalized with COVID-19. Being evicted only increases those risks.
PALMER HEENAN: The majority of people that I represent are Black or brown, and within that, the majority are mothers. I mean, it's really disheartening.
FESSLER: Palmer Heenan is with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. He handled Aniya's case and says he's watching as the disadvantages his clients face keep piling up.
HEENAN: I had a client recently who had been evicted, who basically told me, how are my kids supposed to go to school if we're living out of my car? My car doesn't have Wi-Fi.
ANIYA: It's completely broken. I use this so that our living room is not freezing cold and our heat runs all day.
FESSLER: Aniya took this apartment because it was so affordable, but she soon realized it had a lot of flaws. She shows how she uses a rolled-up towel to seal a leaky sliding glass door, which opens onto a second-floor balcony but doesn't lock. It's the same in her kids' room.
ANIYA: You see - there's no lock at all on the window. It's completely gone.
FESSLER: That's not to mention the peeling paint, malfunctioning refrigerator and a bee infestation last summer. You can still see dead bees in the grooves under her windows. We contacted Aniya's landlord, K-R-S Holdings in Richmond, but they declined to comment for this story. Landlords often argue that they can't maintain their properties if people don't pay the rent and that if landlords go out of business, it will only add to the lack of affordable housing.
Congress has approved $25 billion in rental aid to help with the crisis and is considering $25 billion more. But Jaboa Lake, an analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, says it's not enough.
JABOA LAKE: That still doesn't even touch the back rent that is owed. And we know, again, that back rent owed is disproportionately impacting families of color.
FESSLER: She's worried about what will happen when the pandemic ends and these families find themselves saddled with debt.
LAKE: People are taking out loans. They're using their credit cards. They're selling their personal belongings.
FESSLER: Anything to get by. But that debt and bad credit scores can hurt their ability later on to get an apartment or even a job. Congress and some states are looking for solutions, like expanding rental assistance - which also helps landlords - and expunging eviction filings from a tenant's record. In the meantime, Aniya is moving on. She hopes to go live with relatives in North Carolina so she can get back on her feet and start anew.
Pam Fessler, NPR News.
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