Keeping people housed, like masks, should not be political

Other states have stopped evictions. So should Colorado.

(Getty Images)

Like mask mandates, stopping evictions shouldn’t be political.

This is simple: People need homes to stay safe. Keeping Coloradans housed means preventing the spread of the virus. It is a public health issue, which is why Republican governors who rarely side with tenants have stepped up to stop evictions in Florida, Arizona and Indiana.

When asked whether he would reconsider an eviction moratorium, Gov. Jared Polis expressed no sense of urgency, saying, “people generally should be back at work and earning money.” The governor constantly stresses that he “looks at the data and follows the science” in responding to the virus. Apparently, that data does not include Colorado’s current unemployment rate, which sits at 10.2%.

Just because the Governor believes people “should be back at work” doesn’t mean that they are. In reality, hundreds of thousands of Coloradans remain out of work. Many are relying on critical unemployment benefits boosted by an extra $600 a week in CARES Act money that expires in two weeks. And there’s a strong case that the current state of our economy has been boosted by those on unemployment. That extra $600 a week means that many have more disposable income now than they did before the pandemic. When those benefits expire, the bottom could fall out, with many on unemployment unable to afford their rent, food and basic needs, and our economy suffering even more as a result.

It doesn’t take an economist to see that we are headed for a housing disaster. More than 600,000 Coloradans have applied for unemployment benefits since March, 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, and the average apartment in Colorado costs $1,400 a month.

Moreover, Americans are scared. The vast majority want stronger lockdown measures as COVID-19 spikes to record levels. There is not yet an end in sight to the downturn in our economy. Until we know the extent of the economic crisis, our priority should remain keeping our people healthy: That means giving them the security of a home.

Make no mistake, Polis unequivocally has the power to stop evictions and new cases of homelessness to combat the spread of COVID-19. He had the power on April 30, when he issued a ban on evictions that lasted six weeks, and he has the power now. The only thing that has changed is his willingness to do so. A governor’s role is to do everything in their power to keep us safe. For Colorado, that means stopping evictions. With 300,000 to 400,000 facing eviction in the coming months, Polis must act now.

Last weekend, Polis extended his most recent eviction executive order giving renters an extra 20 days to pay all of their back rent or face removal. But 20 days won’t make the difference we need. It takes longer than that to find a new job and get a first paycheck, and it often takes even longer to secure unemployment benefits, particularly given the historically large number of people currently applying. Even then, those payments may not be enough to cover back rent. If the governor truly believes that Coloradans need homes to be “safer at home,” he needs to do more.

Perhaps the most telling sign that eviction during a pandemic is a bad idea is the legal means by which it is done in many cases: teleconference. The irony of this situation only drives the point home — if it is not safe enough to hold an eviction hearing in person, how can it be safe to remove people from their homes?

For me this issue is personal: I’ve been evicted and I’ve been homeless. I know what it’s like to have nowhere to go. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to have nowhere to go in a pandemic when public health guidance tells us that we are “safer at home.”

Eviction and homelessness have lasting impacts. My mom, brother and I have no family photos that predate our last eviction. The aftermath of the ordeal set me behind in school, and I eventually dropped out of high school as a result. You cannot get a good education without a home. I got my GED and went back to school, because I was inspired by Barack Obama to fight for families like mine. Right now that means speaking out on this issue.

We see across the country that this is not a partisan issue. Oregon’s Democratic governor and Arizona’s Republican governor have opted to stop evictions in the coming months. So far, Polis seems unwilling to accept the data on this and follow their lead. Allowing evictions right now is wrong. More people should say so.

I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting to get Democrats elected. In 2018, I flew back to Colorado from California, where I was attending law school, to volunteer for Polis and other Democrats in the last days of the campaign. I did so because I believe that Democrats are more likely to fight for poor and minority families like mine. Right now, that’s not happening.