Connecticut is in a state of emergency. Like much of the nation, we have been on the cusp of an eviction and homelessness crisis since the pandemic began and our state leadership has yet to implement any substantial or foolproof measures to ensure folks won’t be pushed out of their homes.
The unending cycle of implementing an eviction moratorium, nearly waiting for it to expire, and implementing a new moratorium has placed a constant mental and emotional strain on the tens of thousands of folks facing house insecurity, the small landlords who have also been deprived of income, and the individuals and organizations on the ground working to prevent a housing crisis.
Let’s be clear – Connecticut’s struggle against homelessness is not new, but it is time for our leadership to recognize that in the middle of a pandemic especially, not only is housing healthcare, it is a human right.
I have been organizing with the Cancel Rent CT coalition since the beginning of this pandemic, to urge Gov. Ned Lamont to utilize his executive powers to implement solutions that match the scale of this disaster. Connecticut is not prepared for a homelessness crisis. If we want to prevent it, we must immediately halt all evictions and cancel rent until at least 45 days after the declared state of emergency is lifted, and make funds available to landlords to recover lost income. The COVID crisis is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Our response must be the same.
Since the State of emergency and mandatory shutdown due to COVID-19, over 750,000 out of Connecticut’s 3 million residents have filed for unemployment. High rates of unemployment, coupled with the state’s delay in implementing all three federal unemployment programs due to antiquated systems, have contributed to far too many residents being unable to pay their rent.
As a Black woman who once experienced housing insecurity due to job loss, this crisis is a personal one for me. I know what it is like to not know where you are going to sleep night after night and it is imperative that I do all in my power to prevent others from knowing the same experience. Especially since Black women are the highest recorded demographic who are taken to housing court and successfully evicted.
When my housing was threatened, it plagued my mental, physical, and emotional wellness. I remember not having anywhere to go when I was served with an eviction notice. Community members offered temporary spaces they had available like a small art room or a third-floor bedroom. I felt deep embarrassment and shame moving from house to house with bags and bins filled with my belongings. Some nights I slept on couches or in my car because no space was permanent.
Even after I secured stable work it took time to save up enough money to pay rent and a security deposit, leaving me employed but still homeless. Let me tell you — no person would willingly face eviction, and deal with all the shame, stigma, and uphill struggles that accompany it, if they could afford to pay their rent. Right now, folks just can’t pay.
Not only does every human deserve a safe place to live, but ensuring folks are housed is one of the best ways to curb the spread of COVID. Facing homelessness, staying in shelters, or moving in with family or friends are not safe options during this national public health crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention know this. They recognized the severity of the impending housing crisis by signing an eviction moratorium that goes until the end of 2020. While the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases rise and fluctuate, it is imperative we keep each other safe by keeping folks in their homes.
The state has attempted to support residents by implementing a Temporary Rental Housing Assistance Program (TRHAP) for those financially impacted by COVID-19. But the number of people experiencing need in Connecticut is so great that the program has seen significantly more applications than the state was prepared to handle. As I write this, the backlog is so large only 2 families have received aid out of nearly 7,400 applications. If we want to prevent people from falling through the cracks, we need to cut the red tape and implement relief on a massive scale.
The pandemic has already exposed all the ways our systems leave Black, brown, low-income, middle-income, and other marginalized communities behind. Black and brown communities especially have been disproportionately impacted by all coronavirus related issues and the housing crisis is shaping up to be no different.
We need the governor to do more than sign another temporary solution. To combat COVID-19 and prevent an unrecoverable wave of homelessness our state must take bold and swift action, but the time to implement solutions is quickly running out. Governor Lamont once again extended the eviction moratorium until January 2021 – with one significant exception. The latest moratorium does not apply to folks who are over six months behind on rent. We are about to leave those who are experiencing the most need behind.
Canceling rent is not just the only moral solution, it is also the only solution that matches the scale of this crisis. Our social safety nets are too underfunded and outdated to handle the enormity of this moment. What is the point of being one of the richest countries in the world if we can’t care for our citizens? We are in a state of emergency. It’s time to cancel rent.
Ashley Blount is Co-Deputy Director of CTCORE – Organize Now!