Poor and Black Americans face mass evictions in coming months

Issue 145

The United States is facing an unprecedented eviction crisis. With extra unemployment benefits expiring at the end of July and eviction protections slowly being lifted, millions of Americans could be kicked out of their homes, and Black people will be disproportionately affected.

Without a rental assistance program, some communities could find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having local police enforcing eviction orders in black neighborhoods after weeks of protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, he said.

In July, “36% of renters, who are more likely to work in industries devastated by the coronavirus, missed their … housing bill, compared to 30% of homeowners.” By the end of September, tens of millions of renters could be evicted — making the economic and health crises that are already spiraling out of control even worse.

Whenever it comes to evictions, I often think of Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted,” in which he described the situation in Milwaukee to illustrate how housing has changed throughout the United States. There are several aspects that are important to understand.

First, evictions can ruin people’s lives by not only disrupting communities, but making it harder for people to rent again in the future or even access public housing support.

Losing a home sends families to shelters, abandoned houses, and the street. It invites depression and illness, compels families to move into degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods, uproots communities, and harms children.

Second, the subsidies for housing in the United States are highly skewed toward the rich through tax subsidies for homeownership. Between the Mortgage Interest Deduction and the Property Tax Deduction, “households making over $100,000 a year received nearly 90 percent of the $90 billion spent on the two tax programs … Households making less than $50,000 got a little more than 1 percent of those benefits.” Desmond writes,

If we are going to spend the bulk of our public dollars on the affluent—at least when it comes to housing—we should own up to that decision and stop repeating the politicians’ canard about one of the richest countries on the planet being unable to afford doing more. If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources.

Finally, evictions were not nearly as common in the past. Desmond describes how evictions have become a major source of work for cops in recent decades, but also how the community would oppose the few evictions that did happen when cops tried to carry them out.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. They used to draw crowds. Eviction riots erupted during the Depression, even though the number of poor families who faced eviction each year was a fraction of what it is today. A New York Times account of community resistance to the eviction of three Bronx families in February 1932 observed, “Probably because of the cold, the crowd numbered only 1,000.” Sometimes neighbors confronted the marshals directly, sitting on the evicted family’s furniture to prevent its removal or moving the family back in despite the judge’s orders. The marshals themselves were ambivalent about carrying out evictions. It wasn’t why they carried a badge and a gun.

These days, there are sheriff squads whose full-time job is to carry out eviction and foreclosure orders. There are moving companies specializing in evictions, their crews working all day, every weekday. There are hundreds of data-mining companies that sell landlords tenant screening reports listing past evictions and court filings. These days, housing courts swell, forcing commissioners to settle cases in hallways or makeshift offices crammed with old desks and broken file cabinets—and most tenants don’t even show up. Low-income families have grown used to the rumble of moving trucks, the early-morning knocks at the door, the belongings lining the curb.

Not only is it clear there needs to be a massive change in how we think about housing and who has a right to it (is it an investment or a home?), along with a massive public-housing building program so there’s actual housing that the poor, working, and middle classes can afford again without an hour or longer commute, but maybe the tenant organizing that seems to be accelerating in the face of the pandemic and the economic crisis it’s causing will lead to the same kind of opposition to evictions that used to exist almost a century ago.

(Highly recommend the video linked in this tweet of a constituent breaking down how police spending doesn’t benefit Syracuse, NY because *95%* of officers don’t live in the community. 👇)

Critical urbanism

Boris Johnson wants to dismantle the UK’s planning system, making development “a private sector free-for-all.” Farhad Manjoo imagines NYC without cars. Eliza Levinson describes the activism against tech companies in Berlin.

California ballot measure by Uber and other gig companies would lower workers’ pay and limit lawmakers’ ability to pass tougher labor laws. Japan’s new Shinkansen train can go 360 km/h and doesn’t have to stop during earthquakes. Lisbon wants to turn Airbnb units into affordable housing for essential workers. NYC buses were up to 19% faster during the lockdown, and ridership remains higher than the subway. Despite US eviction protections, some people are already on the streets because they feared deportation if they challenged their landlords. Dollar stores are proliferating across the United States and making communities less safe. Cities in Europe have added almost 1,500 kms (930 miles) of bike lanes since the pandemic began. UK Labour used to be radically anti-landlord, but its current leadership has forgotten that history. Vienna’s housing model is seen as a positive example, but even there housing is increasingly seen as an investment.

Tech dystopia

Juan Ortiz Freuler asks whether the Global North is able to conceive of a different technological future or whether those visions must come from the Global South. Julia Carrie Wong says Facebook doesn’t care about hate because “[t]he only existential threat to a $650bn multinational corporation is a threat to its revenues.”

Elon Musk’s new online school costs $7,500 for one week of lessons based on Musk’s interests with no language, music, or sports. Google was working on a cloud project for China, but it’s been canceled. Auditors finds progress at Facebook has been stalled by “the vexing and heartbreaking decisions Facebook has made that represent significant setbacks for civil rights.” The United States might ban TikTok. It doesn’t take conspiracy theories to see the real problems with 5G. After new Hong Kong law, major US tech companies halted government data requests, while TikTok pulled out. After meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, civil rights groups say Facebook is “not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform.” Cisco sued by California fair employment agency over allegations of a caste hierarchy. Palantir might be going public.

On this week’s Tech Won’t Save Us, I spoke to “Too Smart” author Jathan Sadowski to discuss how smart tech enables powerful actors to further control the population, and why we should be more comfortable dismantling tech that doesn’t serve the public good. For NBC News THINK, I also wrote about why Uber’s acquisition of Postmates will be bad for restaurants, couriers, and customers, then I imagined a better future of food in Horizons. For The Trouble, I also argued socialists can’t be obsessed with tech or growth when imagining a sustainable future.

Climate crisis

The South Pole has warmed at three times the global rate in the past 30 years. More great white sharks are showing up in Eastern Canada, but have they always been there? The pandemic is stalling plastic bans. Preserving nature is an important part of living sustainably, and since Canada has “25% of Earth’s wetlands and boreal forests” it needs to step up. Does the cancellation of three pipelines signal a turn for US oil and gas?

Disney released a video for the reopening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL that looks like the Disneyfication of a fascist pandemic response. The backlash was so overwhelming it deleted the video from Twitter and even locked its Twitter account, buy you can still find it on YouTube. Ryan Simmons edited in some clips of skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in Florida. 👇
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