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Jenna Tsui headshot

COVID-19 Puts America’s Most Vulnerable Tenants at Risk

The widespread closings of businesses and schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic are shining a new light on the housing crisis across America.
By Jenna Tsui

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of side effects apart from health concerns. Many of these economic and social consequences affect everyone, but they aren't having an impact on all individuals equally. Issues like the current housing crisis affect already vulnerable communities more than others.

The subject of "home" has been on a lot of people's minds lately. As schools close and businesses encourage remote work, most of the population finds themselves at home more than usual now. But this isn't the case for everyone, and for some, it presents a worrying issue.

The COVID-19 housing crisis

The widespread closings of businesses and schools are shining a new light on the housing crisis in America. In New York City, 114,000 students are homeless, and without schools, they may not have a consistent source of shelter or food. With the virus spreading, homeless people are now also at a higher health risk.

Disadvantaged people need affordable and reliable housing now more than ever. Being outside among crowds of other people makes you far more likely to contract or spread COVID-19. Students without homes or internet connections may not be able to continue their education now that schools have moved online.

Those experiencing homelessness aren't the only ones feeling the effects of the housing crisis. Not all businesses can maintain their full staff with mandated closures and dwindling customers. As a result, many workers have been temporarily laid off and now have no source of income.

Without a steady paycheck, these people may not be able to pay their rent. In areas that haven't passed eviction delays, unemployed workers might get evicted, further threatening their health and finances. The situation affects some landlords too, who may go without income if tenants don't make payments.

If people don't pay rent, then landlords will lose money. But if individuals have to pay, they could find themselves in dire straits from factors outside of their control.

How the housing industry is responding

Governments at both the state and federal levels are doing what they can to address the housing crisis. Signs suggest that the government will postpone all evictions until the end of April nationwide. But until that happens — and after that timeline ends — the housing industry itself is also responding.

Housing app Airbnb started an initiative to house 100,000 emergency personnel like nurses and first responders. Hosts can opt into the program to open their homes to COVID-19 responders in need. The company has also issued new cleanliness protocols to slow the spread of the virus.

Some housing communities, like the Allegheny County Housing Authority in Pennsylvania, are adapting to help at-risk residents. The county authority is adjusting rents and granting subsidies so its poorer residents can continue living there. Like Airbnb, many of these communities, not just Allegheny County, are upgrading their hygiene and cleanliness guidelines, too.

While some authorities are taking steps to help, some people worry that the industry as a whole isn't doing enough. Activists in California are going on rent strikes for April, claiming the most vulnerable tenants remain at risk. While landlords may postpone evictions, they can still start the eviction process and foreclose housing as soon as April ends.

Silver linings amid the pandemic

While the outbreak has already caused a lot of harm too many people, there are some positives. This housing crisis already existed before the virus brought it to the spotlight. Now that it has the world's attention, people may work to resolve it, with or without a pandemic.

The crisis has brought attention to many disadvantaged communities. The pushback against people labeling COVID-19 as "Chinese" has led to broader anti-racism movements from businesses. As the situation brings issues like anti-Asian discrimination to the light, more people have joined the fight against these pervasive problems.

Similarly, the severity of COVID-19's economic impact has spurred discussions about existing economic inequality issues. Now that benefits like paid sick leave are more critical, more people are considering how healthcare systems should change.

These issues have always existed, but many privileged people may have been blind to them. Now that the virus has increased the severity of these concerns, more citizens are taking them seriously. If nothing else, the crisis has shown the general public how they can help vulnerable communities.

The effects of coronavirus are everywhere

The novel coronavirus pandemic hasn't just put people's health at risk. Millions of Americans now find themselves in dire financial situations, inciting an uprising on behalf of at-risk communities. Many — if not most — of these disadvantaged people have always been vulnerable. Now, their position sits at the forefront of American minds.

As everyone feels COVID-19's effects, individuals are joining together. People are fighting against racism and opening buildings to house the homeless as the crisis rages on. The coronavirus outbreak will cause a lot of damage before it's over, but eventually, it might bring justice to those who need it most.

Image credit: Avi Werde/Unsplash

Jenna Tsui headshot

Jenna Tsui is a technology journalist who covers the latest news in technology, disruptive tech, and environmental science. You can read more of her work at The Byte Beat.

Read more stories by Jenna Tsui