Shelter from the Storm: How the new administration can tackle the nation's housing crisis.

AuthorEndicott, Marisa

Heidi Breaux didn't want to send her two daughters back to school. Her eldest, who is thirteen, has asthma, putting her at greater risk of getting sick from COVID-19. But, with no childcare and facing eviction, Breaux had no choice but to return to work.

"I'm stuck because I should keep my kids home for the safety of my child, but for me to be able to pay bills and make money, I have to work," Breaux tells The Progressive. "It's scary because every three days you're getting a text message or a letter from the school telling you a teacher got exposed to COVID-19 or somebody tested positive. What if my child catches it because I sent her to school?"

Last spring, Breaux, a thirty-five-year-old single mother, was working two jobs: entering data at the Louisiana Department of Revenue and clerking at a local grocery store. She worked 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday but made well over enough to cover the $750-a-month rent for her family's two-bedroom apartment in East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana.

But Breaux, fearing the risk of exposing her daughter, quit the grocery store job at the end of May. A month later, after her babysitter got COVID-19, Breaux was forced to quit her second job. The unemployment she received was nowhere near enough to cover her costs. Eventually, she found a job as a custodian at a nonprofit ministry making $ 10 an hour. But by then, she'd fallen behind on rent.

"I'm paying as I can, but I'm playing catch-up with everybody," Breaux says. "I'm behind on my car note, my electric bill-everything is behind." Even with the temporary eviction moratorium established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Breaux says she's being threatened with losing her apartment.

"I try not to let my kids know," she says. "I don't want them knowing anything of what we're going through. I'm over $4,600 in the hole with my landlord, including all the late fees and everything else they added in. There's really no way. I don't know how I'm going to do it."

Renters across the nation, who account for an increasing share of the population in recent years, are in similar situations. In August, the Aspen Institute reported that thirty to forty million Americans are at risk of being evicted. By late October, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 16 percent of tenants were behind on rent, and half of tenants had less than full confidence in their ability to pay the next months rent on time. Economists estimate that the amount of back rent owed throughout the nation could already top $70 billion.

This is a problem for both renters and landlords, especially mom-and-pop operations. An October survey found that more than a third of landlords did not receive full rent payments from the month before.

The United States has...

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