Millions In US At Risk Of Internal Displacement As Evictions Resume
Millions of people across the United States are at risk of displacement as they prepare to be forced from their homes. Meanwhile, the delta variant of COVID19 is tearing through vulnerable communities and rapidly spreading.
Families across the United States are facing eviction as the federal eviction moratorium was allowed to expire on Saturday by the Biden administration. Although the Biden administration says it had wanted to extend it due to rising COVID19 infections, the administration was unable to do so. The U.S. Supreme Court announced in June that it would not extend its term beyond July 31 without congressional action.
Despite knowing for months that the evictions were imminent, US government officials waited until the last possible moment to address the issue. U.S. House lawmakers attempted but failed, to pass a bill to extend the moratorium. It had been proposed by some Democratic lawmakers that it be extended until the end of this year. Republican lawmakers for the most part continued their traditional anti-life rhetoric and argued against the well being of millions by refusing to work towards extending the moratorium.
In an effort to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed the eviction moratorium in September 2020. The move has kept millions from infection by keeping them safely within their homes or apartments. The US Congress approved nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid during the pandemic, however, it has been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords to who they owe money. At the State, level eviction moratoriums will remain in place in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, California, and Washington, D.C., until they expire later in 2021.
For millions living in unprotected states, the end of the federal moratorium means evictions could begin as early as Monday. The mass evictions are expected to increase the infections and death toll of the coronavirus, making the move a possible mass death event. The mass evictions will trigger the worst housing crisis for the United States since the Great Recession. Southern states, traditionally controlled by primarily white Republican lawmakers and with weaker tenant protections are expected to see the largest spike in evictions.
To make matters worse, evicted victims will face eviction records and back rent that will make it almost impossible to find new apartments and leave many more debt-ridden. By the end of March, 6.4 million US households fell behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. Over 15 million people allegedly owe as much as $20 billion to their landlords, according to the Aspen Institute.
Studies have shown that evicted families face a litany of health problems, often with lethal consequences, ranging from increased infant mortality rates to suicide. With COVID19 still raging across the US, newly evicted people forced into the streets, shelters, or other vulnerable situations are likely to be infected and die. The mass evictions will likely target impoverished communities where vaccination rates are lower. The elderly, those with medical issues, women, and families will be hit the hardest.
Housing is a Human Right
Adequate housing, as defined under international law, is “the right of every woman, man, youth and child to gain and sustain a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity.” Having a home goes well beyond just four walls and a roof.
The right to adequate housing, along with many other economic and social rights, is protected in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, specifically Article 11 which details the right to an adequate standard of living and the continuous improvement of living conditions. The same rights are articulated in Article 25 (1) of the non-legally binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There are many other examples of the right to adequate housing in other international treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 16 and 27), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 9 and 28), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Article 14 and 15), among others.
In addition to the physical structure of the house, the right to adequate housing encompasses much more than that. In addition to several specific factors, adequacy is determined by social, economic, and cultural factors:
- Security of tenure: Regardless of the type of tenure (lease; cooperative housing; emergency housing, etc.), everyone possesses a level of security of tenure which legally protects against forced eviction, harassment, or other intimidations.
- Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: Adequate housing must contain the means necessary for health, nutrition, security and comfort. This includes access to safe drinking water, heating and lighting, sanitation facilities, food storage, site drainage, energy for cooking and access to emergency services.
- Affordability: The financial cost of housing should not be so high that it threatens the attainability of other fundamental rights and needs. Everyone has the right to be protected by appropriate means against unreasonable rent prices or increases.
- Habitability: Housing must be liveable in terms of protection from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind and other potential threats to health and wellbeing. It also must have sufficient space for living.
- Accessibility: housing must accommodate the special needs of disadvantaged groups such as the elderly, the terminally ill, people with physical or mental disabilities, and people with persistent medical problems.
- Location: Housing must be in a location which has access to healthcare services, schools, employment possibilities and other social services. Housing should not be built in polluted areas that threaten the health of inhabitants.
- Cultural adequacy: the construction of housing (including building materials and method) must take cultural identity and diversity into account.
There is a document on the right to adequate housing that was created by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to elaborate on the right, including the obligations on governments, the link between housing and other human rights, and accountability mechanisms.