Systemic Racial Inequality and the COVID-19 Renter Crisis

One of the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be mass evictions in California and elsewhere in the United States. Driven by the failure at all levels of government to institute tenant protections and keep people in their homes, such evictions will reshape cities, increasing homelessness and displacing communities. Analyzing recent survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this research brief by Professor Paul Ong pinpoints the racial disparities that structure this crisis. As he notes, such disparities reflect institutionalized and systemic inequalities in education, employment, and housing. An especially important finding of the report is that across socio-economic status categories, Black and Latinx households are more likely to be unable to pay rent compared to non-Hispanic Whites and Asian Americans, a stark reminder of the entrenched racial disparities that are being rearticulated and amplified by the present crisis. The brief underscores the necessity of social protection policies and programs, whether in the form of robust unemployment relief or rent cancellation. As Professor Ong notes, programs of relief have perpetuated discrimination through the determination of eligibility. The unprecedented crisis at hand demands a new approach to public policy, one that can ensure a just recovery.

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