As the coronavirus pandemic raged throughout the United States in August, the Supreme Court made the decision to reverse the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium, raising concerns about the livelihood of six million renters.
With crucial renter protections gone, eviction cases are paralyzing the courts and families are struggling to find affordable housing. Some states offered an extension on the moratorium, such as California, but the state’s protection will expire Sept. 30.
Annenberg School of Communication’s Center for Health Journalism hosted a webinar Wednesday to discuss the implications of the moratorium’s end, as well as other pandemic aid programs. The panelists focused on the effects the end of these programs will have on low-income communities, discussing which tenants are most at risk, why some tenants have faced challenges to access aid and how journalists can use the power of storytelling to convey the tenants’ struggles.
Michelle Levander, the founding director of the Center for Health Journalism, moderated the webinar and introduced the panelists — Peter Hepburn, assistant professor of global urban studies and urban systems at Rutgers University, Kriston Capps, staff writer for Bloomberg CityLab in Washington, D.C. and Tina Rosales, an advocate on the housing team of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
Hepburn started the webinar by comparing pre-pandemic eviction rates to those during the pandemic. The Eviction Lab calculated that in 2016, a year with a 5% unemployment rate, 3.7 million eviction complaints were filed across the country.
The pandemic exacerbated the affordable housing crisis and increased the risk of eviction for renters, particularly low-income renters, according to Hepburn. At the start of the pandemic, approximately 50 million people lived in a renter household that endured coronavirus-related job or income loss, 40% of which occured in low-income households.
As a result, the CDC issued an eviction moratorium, which temporarily stopped evictions in the U.S.
Now that the moratorium has been lifted by the Supreme Court, evictions are on the rise. However, compared to historical averages, the eviction rates are 50% lower than pre-pandemic levels, though there is variation by city.
Rosales said she dedicated her life to protecting and advocating for renters in California. After attending college, Rosales witnessed the gentrification of her neighborhood in the San Francisco Mission District and displacement of members of her community, including her father. After going to law school, Rosales focused primarily on defending renters.
“After defending cases in Los Angeles and being in court every day, it kind of got to the point where I was like ‘There needs to be more I can do.’” Rosales said. “I can help an individual client, but for every one client who I help and is eligible for my services, there [are] about 5,000 that are also eligible for my services, and they don’t actually get the legal representation that they need.”
Rosales said individuals do not have to be attorneys to get involved with housing advocacy and invited law school students, undergraduate students and even high school students to follow their passion for fair housing policies. However, she highlighted the importance of tenants knowing their rights.
“At every point in a person’s life, they’re most likely going to be a renter, and for most people, they’re one paycheck away from becoming homeless,” Rosales said. “So when you know your own individual rights, it’s easier then to pass that information on to other people and advocate for yourself and for others.”
Chika Ojukwu, a sophomore majoring in journalism, attended because she has always been interested in learning about the housing crisis. Ojukwu said evictions are common in her hometown of Miami. Now that she is in L.A., she wanted to see how evictions affect the population of California.
“I think journalists are the ones who can give voice and give context to what’s happening,” Ojukwu said. “It’s our duty really to bring this attention to our readers and put a face to what’s happening.”
Like Ojukwu, Rosales believes in the power of giving voice and context to tenant experiences is by talking about it on social media, going to public legislative hearings and using your voice to reclaim these stories.
“We have a lot of power just by simply talking to other people because that’s where we can get, organizing, but that’s also where we can reclaim our stories, and speak them out to the world.”
A previous version of this article said Tina Rosales is an advocate for Western Center on Poverty and Law. The correct name is Western Center on Law and Poverty. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.