Credit: (Illustration by Chris Allen, VOICE)

S.E. Williams

For many inland residents still struggling to catch up on COVID-19 related past due rents it must feel like a doomsday clock is ticking away the hours until April 1st when the restraints that held landlords and mortgage holders in check and staved off evictions for many during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, will be loosened.

The impact could be staggering. Statewide, the number of those behind on rent or mortgage payments is both astounding and cautionary—nearly three quarters of a million Californians continue to owe billions in back rent. The pressing question is, how many of these people will be forced into homelessness?

Even before the pandemic California faced a growing homeless crisis, a housing shortage and a renting population burdened by rental rates that far outpaced median incomes.

A 2019 report released by Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside) noted, “27.3 percent of all renter-occupied households in the city of Riverside were spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines those who pay more than 50 percent of their annual income as rent burdened and those who pay more than half on rent as “severely rent burdened.”  

In 2020, San Bernardino County’s Affordable Housing Needs report showed 79% of extremely low-income households paid more than half of their income on housing.

The same year, a survey by the Othering & Belonging Institute at U.C. Berkeley of more than 1,500 San Bernardino and Riverside County residents found that 60 percent of renters “worried that they won’t be able to make the next month’s rent,” and 39 percent were extremely or moderately concerned that they will have to move out of their homes for reasons outside their control.”

“Homelessness is something that many people witness but very few are willing to talk about. Even in mainstream media, homeless people are either vilified or glorified. But very few tackle how it really is to become homeless.”

Judy Ponio

Now, as “the guards at the gate” who have been a bulwark against evictions are being reassigned, the other COVID-19 inspired rent/mortgage relief failsafe—federal and state rent relief programs—are slow in processing relief requests.

In other words, applicants who turned to the state/federal government for relief grow anxious as April 1st approaches  while they wait for their applications to be processed. Statewide, nearly half of all applications are still in the review phase and those numbers are even worse in parts of the state, like San Bernardino County for example, where nearly 70 percent of the applications remain in process.  

Although the process is slow there is still an opportunity for those who need help but have not yet applied, the encouraging news is you have until the end of the month to submit your application through the Inland Empire Resource Center for consideration. There is also relief available for those struggling to pay their mortgages due to COVID-19.

With some landlords chomping at the bit to evict struggling tenants while contemplating higher rental rates from possible future tenants; with renters unable to celebrate wage increases because their added income is being gobbled up by inflation and rising gas prices; with far too many inland residents being rent burdened; and with a government even before 2020 struggling to find solutions to a growing housing crisis and worsening homelessness – it seems the pandemic has not moved the state or nation any further toward meaningful and sustainable solutions to this laundry list of dilemmas.

In the coming months I shudder to think of tens of thousands of Californians being forced into tent cities that continue to proliferate in cities across the inland region and elsewhere. 

Don’t wait until it is too late to seek guidance regarding the eviction process and your rights as a tenant. The nonprofit organization Tenants Together is available to provide guidance on these issues in both Riverside County and San Bernardino County

In some of the limited reporting on the economic impacts of the 1918 pandemic the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis noted in a 2007 report—not surprisingly—that the 1918 pandemic’s permanent influence was not on the collective of society—but “on the atoms” of human society—the individual. It further noted, ”Society as a whole recovered from the 1918 influenza quickly, but individuals who were affected by the influenza had their lives changed forever.”

As eviction protections come to an end it seems to call for more proactive and aggressive efforts to find alternatives for those who are not exceedingly at risk of homelessness. Experts note that homelessness can contribute to challenges re-gaining stability, getting to work and school and can potentially result in a lifelong impact.

In the wake of the Afghan War, America welcomed and housed more than 65,000 Afghans here in the  U.S. and this week, we learned the Biden Administration expects to welcome and house at least 100,000 Ukranians fleeing the Russian invasion–I support both efforts despite how Haitian who also sought asylum were rapidly deported by this very same administration. 

I also wonder why and how  we can pull out all the stops and find the dollars to welcome and  support those needing our assistance  from other countries but place limits on the support we provide our own citizens when it comes to one of life’s most basic necessities–shelter? 

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.