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Pulitzer Prize Winning Sociologist Speaking At South Coast Symposium Says COVID-19 Could Add To Region's Affordable Housing Crisis

Rubber stamp with text eviction notice inside, vector illustration
Rubber stamp with text eviction notice inside, vector illustration

Expert says the pandemic is threatening to take evictions to a whole new level

Dr. Matthew Desmond is a sociology professor at Harvard who’s been studying the housing, and eviction crisis in America for decades. Desmond says evictions aren’t a condition of poverty. He says they are a cause.

Desmond has written four books looking at issues like poverty in the United States, racial inequality, and public policy. His 2016 book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit In The American City” illustrated the crisis by following the plights of eight families in Milwaukee. It won four of the highest awards in non-fiction literature, including a Pulitzer Prize.

Desmond looked at the impacts of the nation’s 2007-2009 financial crisis on rental housing and evictions, and he says we can see some parallels due to the pandemic.

The pandemic has the potential to push many low income families already living on the edge of poverty over the brink. Desmond says for years, it was considered reasonable that a family would spend up to 30% of its income on housing, leaving enough for food, clothing and other things. But, for years, the percentage has been at 50%. He says one in four families is now spending 70% on housing, leaving them in poverty.

With many low income families hit by job losses, or job cutbacks due to the COVID-19 crisis, government agencies stepped up with legislation to block evictions. But, the actions are a band-aid. Tenants still owe the back rent, which in some cases is now thousands of dollars. Desmond says the government needs to come up with some rent relief packages, to help tenants and property owners.

And, looking at the bigger issue, Desmond says we need to have some type of universal housing vouchers to help struggling families from slipping deeper into poverty, or even worse homelessness.

The sociologist says the housing crisis is at the root of many of our social ills. Desmond says fix it, and it will help alleviate a number of other issues from racism to gaps in medical care.

Desmond will speak at the United Way of Ventura County’s virtual “United To End Homelessness” Symposium at 9 a.m. Friday. Here is a link for registration information:

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.