Late last month, as the moratorium on evictions through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act expired, so did a temporary protection for one-third of the nation’s renters. Millions of Americans are now facing houselessness. According to a recent Aspen Institute report on the COVID-19 eviction crisis, between 29 and 43 percent of renter households could face eviction by the end of 2020. (See “Eviction Notice,” cover story, Aug. 19.)
And to illustrate just how far the now-expired additional $600 federal unemployment benefits went, “on average, eviction judgment amounts are often for failure to pay one or two months’ rent and involve less than $600 in rental debt,” says the Aspen Institute, based on reporting from The New York Times.
As if the wave of evictions disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) women and children isn’t jacked up enough, it takes the current environment of voter suppression and disenfranchisement to an all-time high level of jacked-up. A recent Pew Research poll reveals half of voters already anticipate difficulty voting this year.
As myths of mail-in voting fraud circulate, political rhetoric doesn’t help public trust in the process. The post office is on the brink of economic collapse, and health safety concerns around COVID-19 and gathering in long public lines for hours (which is the norm for in-person voting in some areas) has made mail-in voting more important than ever. The agency “recently sent detailed letters to 46 states and D.C. warning that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted,” reports The Washington Post. Following all the ballot rules may still not result in on-time counting, the latest example of COVID-19-related disenfranchisement.
For those who have no address, showing up to the polls may be the only or easiest way to vote. Across the nation, studies have shown that neighborhoods with more evictions have lower voter turnout in a presidential election year. Locally, this puts neighborhoods like Colorado Springs’ Hillside of 58 percent renters — already dealing with increasing gentrification that raises the cost of housing and forces low-income renters out of their living situations — at a risk for even lower voter turnout.
Most renters facing eviction are women caring for children, The Fuller Project, a global nonprofit newsroom, reports. And while single mothers who may rely on government assitance have a lot at stake in elections that could determine the future of such programs, they may not have the energy or ability to vote — especially if they lose their homes “and access to a stable address to receive voting registration, ballots, applications, and critical change-of-address forms,” the project states. If you are trying to find shelter and food for your children, voting doesn’t really make it to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
With 30-40 million Americans facing evictions, this has the potential to significantly affect election outcomes.
Here in El Paso County, a 2014 housing assessment, the most recent available, found that low-income households disproportionately paid 50 percent or more of their income toward housing; the ideal is 30 percent. “In 2012, 82,708 households (58,887 of which were in Colorado Springs) were spending more than 30% of their income on housing and utility costs,” the assessment finds.
It is a time to organize like never before, particularly around the issues that affect the most vulnerable among us. Because at the end of the day, it is a reflection on us — our democracy — and the outcomes affect all of us. Finding time to advocate for housing and voting rights, with the added responsibility of social distancing, is work and is going to continue to be work until November. But those of us who have the ability have to stand in the gap for those who can’t — and we must provide a voice for the voiceless.