By Gabi Hirshfield
Evictions are a familiar problem for Allentown, with the city having an eviction rate of 2.79%, the third highest of large cities in Pennsylvania, according to the Eviction Lab. The pandemic merely made the circumstances that lead to evictions more clear and visible to the public, and Americans are questioning whether housing is “a luxury, or a human right.”
With Americans across the country struggling to keep their homes as the pandemic disrupted incomes, the government stepped in to offer assistance. Under the American Rescue Plan, PA Act 24 of 2021, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) was instituted to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic on renters. ERAP provided fund to help people pay their rent and other housing expenses such as utilities.
ERAP assisted 4,500 households in the Lehigh Vallley as of August 2022, according to the Morning Call. A national program, ERAP provided roughly $46 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance through two distinct programs: ERAP1, and the extension of this program, ERAP2 that allowed families to avoid eviction. Some have praised ERAP, and there is no doubt that it has been extremely helpful to countless families in response to the uncertainty that has come with the pandemic. According to the Capital Star, “These programs showed how relatively low-cost interventions created stability and safety for families that could have positive effects for them, their communities, and our economy.”
The narrative is quite different for the landlords who own these properties, however. Because housing today has been so drastically monetized and viewed as a luxury instead of a right, some landlords are feeling the negative effects of ERAP on their own financial stability. The Real Deal writes, “New York’s emergency rental assistance program was intended to make owners whole while protecting tenants from eviction. But an ERAP application to the portal has instead become a get-out-of-housing-court-free card for renters and a money suck for some owners.”
June Margolin, a landlord of Huntington, initiated a survey for her fellow landlords and a website to spread the message that ERAP is harming landlords. She was not alone in thinking this, however, as a Facebook group was created that publicized a protest at the New York State governor’s office on October 17th, 2022. The Facebook page has 82 followers, and there were many in attendance at a protest in October. On the stopERAP website, Margolin writes, “Homelessness is real for landlords. There are six that we know about from our survey. They pay their mortgage, property taxes, and utilities for homes they can’t live in because their tenants won’t leave and are protected from eviction by ERAP.” For some landlords, ERAP was an attack on their own financial stability and housing security.
ERAP certainly isn’t perfect and there is no doubt it had negative effects on landlords, but it is important to realize the importance of housing and what ERAP was aiming to do in the first place. According to Health Affairs, “A large body of research documents the association between evictions and a host of social determinants of health and adverse health outcomes, including increased spread of COVID-19 and related morbidity and mortality.” Research has shown a direct link between evictions and adverse health effects. Life chances are directly linked to where someone lives, and furthermore, if they have somewhere to live. Health Affiars also states that “because eviction in general disproportionately affects low-income people of color, the health consequences of eviction likely widen both racial and socioeconomic disparities in health.” The implications of the eviction crisis go beyond the realm of housing and have wide array of impacts on communities that are already consistently neglected by current government policies. In examining ERAP and the different effects that it has had on a wide variety of people, it is important to acknowledge the way that housing has been capitalized on and so heavily monetized. Tenants are relying on ERAP because housing is not affordable, and landlords are relying on tenants to pay their rent for their income, making money off others’ livelihood. While programs like ERAP provide temporary relief for households who experienced financial hardship during the pandemic, it is only a temporary, a bandage solution on a larger issue. We must examine the ideology and policies that have led housing to become an opportunity to make money rather than something that everyone deserves.