By Qur’an Hansford
Imagine watching life pass you by, thousands of legs in every direction, faces that soon become fainted memories – and no one even acknowledges your presence.
Over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless.
Today, Newark, New Jersey, is on the brink of a housing emergency.
Thousands of families are forced from their homes. Homelessness is at historic levels. A city, already devastated by COVID-19, facing yet another crisis.
More than 14,000 eviction cases are pending in Essex County court, most of them thought to involve Newark tenants. Cases are delayed because evictions have been suspended during the pandemic under Gov. Phil Murphy’s emergency order, according to nj.com.
Murphy’s order included a moratorium on lockouts, meaning landlords cannot shut people out of their homes, even if they are behind on rent or have eviction proceedings against them. The state Supreme Court has also put eviction cases on pause, hence the huge back up of cases.
During the height of the pandemic, I urged our college campus to remember the forgotten and bring a voice to the silenced. The individuals in abusive households with parents or spouses, essential workers, those dealing with mental health that relied on outside distractions.
The homeless indeed fall into this category.
Communities across the country respond to homelessness with a variety of housing and services programs, including emergency shelters, transitional housing, rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing.
During the past decade, a shift has occurred in homelessness assistance, placing a greater emphasis on permanent housing solutions. Solutions such as permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing are used over the transitional housing programs. Permanent housing interventions account for about half of the beds in the U.S. overall, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
But for cities in New Jersey, individuals could plunge into an eviction crisis they are not prepared to face as more people get vaccinated and the state climbs out of the devastation shaped by the pandemic.
The problem is not confined to Newark.
A shocking number of New Jersey residents could be thrown out of their housing unless substantial funding is reserved for rental assistance for tenants who have fallen behind on rent and evictions are further delayed.
“Around 60,000 evictions are pending across the state, data from the state judiciary shows. Matt Shapiro, president of the New Jersey Tenants Association, said those likely represent only a fraction of evictions that will be filed once the moratorium ends,” according to Nj.com.
“If we don’t do something, you’re going to see 200,000, 300,000 pending evictions,” said Shapiro to nj.com.
Eviction filings declined drastically in 2020 after the moratorium went into effect, calling for a rent freeze, according to judiciary data via nj.com. From April through the end of the year, 46,245 evictions were filed across the state, down nearly 60% from the 112,888 filed during the same period in 2019. But, if evictions had not been on hold, it is likely the number of 2020 evictions would have been much higher than in previous years. One estimate said almost one-third of renters failed to pay their rent fully and on-time in July.
But even as evictions were on hold since the pandemic began, some renters in New Jersey have still been forced from their homes, both legally and illegally. Dozens of people in Newark and across New Jersey have reported being locked out of their homes without a warrant allowing it.
Although this crisis will occur all over New Jersey, Newark will likely be the epicenter.
“In every city, renters will face an enormous crisis when eviction moratoriums expire,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in a statement. “This is acute in Newark where 78% of our residents are tenants. Unless the federal government treats emergency rental assistance as an urgent priority, Newark will face a tsunami of evictions.”
Newark is particularly vulnerable because of the shortage of affordable housing.
The median rent in Newark is about $1,100 a month. That is far more than the $763 mark that would satisfy the 30% affordability threshold, based on the city’s average household income of $30,000. This disparity leaves the city short about 16,000 affordable units, according to Nj.com.
With unemployment hovering above 7.5% in New Jersey, many of those facing eviction will have few options beyond home hopping or being on the streets.
Thousands of New Jersey residents have fallen behind on their rent, having lost their jobs or faced reduced hours or diminished business. This ultimately means that thousands of landlords have gone without some or all of their income as well, especially smaller landlords, said Derek Reed to Nj.com, a past president of the New Jersey Property Owners Association. Even if tenants are unable to pay rent, landlords are still required to pay property taxes, maintenance and mortgage notes.
There has been a lot of discourse about what people decide to do with their $1,400 from the federal government. Shaming others on what they decide is the best use of their money seems to be a reasonable criticism. I saw a tweet (excuse me while I paraphrase) that alluded that $1,400 to poor people is a lot of money, but not enough money. A lot of people, mostly those who have not had to be on the brink of homelessness or wonder where their next meal is coming from, believe poor people can “budget” or “save” their way out of poverty. Wrong.
Something to think about — many of us are closer to being homeless than we are to being a part of the one percent.
Protect the homeless.
This editorial expresses the unanimous opinion of The Rider News Editorial Board. This week’s editorial was written by Opinion Editor Qur’an Hansford