COVID-19 has laid bare many flaws in our social safety net. In communities of color, the virus has thrown into sharp focus the many ways in which systems contribute to the increased vulnerability of Black and Brown children and families, particularly the lack of affordable housing and the constant threat of eviction.
Eviction pushes families deeper into poverty, disturbs the stability of their daily lives and lowers parents’ capacity to help their children weather those challenges. For children, the level of stress, anxiety and fear that eviction can cause can adversely affect their development and overall health. 15% of children in Contra Costa County have experienced 2 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which increase their risk for chronic diseases, as well as their capacity for developing healthy social and emotional skills. Young children depend on stable, responsive, and nurturing relationships to buffer sustained toxic stress endured in the home environment when “basic” necessities such as food and housing are threatened.
Race and place defines who does well and who does not. A new report by Bay Area Equity Atlas shows that essential workers are disproportionately people of color, women, and immigrants. In Contra Costa, 40% of frontline workers have children at home, and 42% pay more than a of third of their income on rent.
The initial eviction moratorium enacted by the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors was a good first step, but there is more to do to protect our most vulnerable families in Contra Costa County.
Here are four actions the Board can take to combat this crisis that threatens the health and economic well-being of our community.
- Extend the Eviction and Rent Moratorium Beyond May 31st: tie the moratorium to 30 days beyond the lifting of the County’s Health Emergency Order. As these orders are preventing many renters and tenants from working, this timeframe will allow renters breathing room to get back on their feet and find employment. The extension will also further protect low-income families and essential workers, allowing them to stay in their homes.
- Equitable Relief Funds: Provide economic assistance through local, state, and federal resources to cash-strapped tenants, homeowners, and small property owners. Without this assistance, tenants’ inability to pay rent will cause a ripple effect in the economy, including threatening the livelihoods of many local landlords.
- Extend the Grace Period: Cuts in federal and state funding, including elimination of State Redevelopment, have reduced investment in affordable housing production, and the resulting housing shortage has led to Contra Costa residents paying an average rent of $2,731. Currently, the County’s grace period only allows a total of four months for repayment. Under the current moratorium, tenants would be expected to pay up to double their usual rent for four consecutive months in order to avoid eviction during a crisis that has prevented people from earning a check through no fault of their own. The County must implement policies to keep people from being evicted as our community recovers from the pandemic.
- Tenant Education: Expand public education, hotlines, and other strategies. It is imperative to widely disseminate tenant protection information. There’s ample evidence from tenant community organizations that the County hasn’t done enough to spread the word, especially in economically and linguistically marginalized communities.
The time to act is now. If nothing further is done, COVID-19 will continue to burn through our communities, causing more residents and their children to risk being pushed into homelessness. Immediate action today will pay dividends for the entire county tomorrow.
Dr. Ruth Fernández, Ed.D. is Executive Director at First 5 Contra Costa with over 20 years of knowledge and experience working in early childhood, with diverse communities in project management, and strategic planning and system services coordination in the education and social services sectors. Previously she spent over 12 years at the Contra Costa County Office of Education and helped to identify and coordinate educational services for educators working in early childhood education throughout the county.
Alma (last name not disclosed due to fear of retaliation) lives in Concord and is a recently single mother, having escaped an abusive relationship. She works cleaning houses to pay rent on her apartment for her and her seven year old child. Alma has now lost all her clients as a result of COVID 19 and Shelter in Place, and has also recently received a notice of a rent increase from her landlord effective June 1.
The Trump administration’s heartless decision to roll back DACA will harm children and families.
About a quarter of DACA recipients, 800,000 young adults whose parents brought them to the U.S. as children, live in California. Since 2012, DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has provided recipients with work permits, the ability to go to college, and most important, protection from deportation.
These young Dreamers contribute to our schools, churches, cities, and communities. They’re our colleagues, neighbors, and friends. About 25% are parents to U.S. born children, and over half have U.S. citizen brothers or sisters.
The Trump administration has placed this successful program, and thousands of futures, in jeopardy.
The anxiety surrounding a family’s immigration status can be detrimental to the health and development of children. A recent study found that when parents received DACA status, it significantly improved their children’s mental health almost immediately. Simply put: children had less stress and anxiety when their parents no longer feared being deported.
The current administration’s immigration crackdown has eroded these gains for children. Reversing DACA will only exacerbate this.
All children deserve to have safe, secure childhoods. They should not live in fear that their parents or siblings will be taken away at any moment, or be further traumatized when a loved one is deported, leaving many in sudden poverty.
DACA is admittedly an imperfect, short-term solution to a much larger need for comprehensive immigration reform. But it is also the most compassionate path for “those who believe in their hearts and in their minds that they are American” as President Obama said when he created DACA in 2012. We hope our leaders will stand up for DACA so that all children are supported in safe, nurturing families and communities.
Sean Casey, Executive Director, First 5 Contra Costa
New immigration and deportation policies have many families worried, and agencies who provide services struggling to keep up. Here are some helpful resources to assist families during these turbulent times. Please note we will update this list periodically.
About the New Immigration Policies:
- Memo from Department of Homeland Security outlining new policies
- New ICE Raids – What Immigrants Need to Know (National Immigration Law Center)
Legal Rights and Resources:
- Know Your Rights (National Immigration Law Center) English and Spanish; sample know-your-rights cards in English and Spanish
- Know your rights, what to do if stopped by police, ICE raids, anti-Muslim discrimination, and more (ACLU)
- Find immigration law help
- Bay Area immigration resources EHSD, Catholic Charities
- CCISCO is starting a Rapid Response Network for people experiencing or at risk of deportation
- Ensuring Opportunity has a list of “Know Your Rights” workshops happening in Contra Costa County
Almost half of all kids in Contra Costa County have immigrant parents. As champions for the most vulnerable among us, we wholeheartedly refute policies that cause harm to immigrant families and our community.
Immigrants move to America to make better lives for themselves, and to contribute to our culture and community. That’s the American Dream. Or at least it always has been.
Today’s political climate – with its unsound Executive Orders and inhumane deportation policies – is putting more and more families in harm’s way, especially non-citizens, people of color, and Muslim Americans.
Immigration policies that break families apart threaten young children’s safety, stability, and development. Children should not live in constant fear their parents will be taken away at any moment. Children should not be further traumatized when a loving parent is deported or by policies that promote racial hatred.