A Pandemic Meets a Housing Crisis
Burris, S., de Guia, S., Gable, L., Levin, D.E., Parmet, W.E., Terry, N.P. (Eds.) (2020). Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19. Boston: Public Health Law Watch
7 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2020 Last revised: 3 Nov 2020
Date Written: July 31, 2020
Housing instability in the United States has been exacerbating health disparities and causing worse health outcomes for low-income individuals and people of color well before the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals with low- or no-income experience intermittent utility connection, are more likely to be evicted, and spend a higher percentage of their income on housing costs. There is an insufficient supply of safe, affordable housing. As a result, people are homeless, live in substandard conditions, and experience economic insecurity. COVID-19 increased the number of families afflicted with housing instability and prompted an unprecedented government response to this issue. Certain legal constraints that perpetuated a system of discrimination were rapidly suspended or amended when middle- and upper-class people found themselves struggling with housing and utility payments, income insecurity, and other stressors of the pandemic. Historically, these burdens were concentrated in the low-income population, with an emphasis on people of color. Therefore, it follows that the grace and concern extended during the pandemic still reflects bias against socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and empathy towards higher-income people. In many instances, laws that are equally applied to all individuals widened the gap between people at different places on the socioeconomic continuum. People facing additional hardships need extended grace periods for rent and utility payments. The short-term solutions instituted during COVID-19 did not address the digital gap, the needs of formerly incarcerated people, or the reality that low-income groups will inevitably experience the same unstable situations they were in prior to the pandemic. Individuals who are more likely to be affected by housing instability belong to socioeconomic groups that are being disproportionately and adversely affected by COVID-19. These compounding demographic factors complicate the legal response to housing problems. Recommendations for mitigating the negative effects of policies and regulations focus on addressing issues omitted from the COVID-19 housing laws, expanding the laws that were put into place, and targeting the underlying causes of housing instability in order to proactively prevent such instability.
This paper was prepared as part of Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19, a comprehensive report published by Public Health Law Watch in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association.
Keywords: COVID-19, coronavirus, legal responses, pandemic, public health, law, public health law, housing, housing insecurity, housing crisis
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