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.