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Eviction moratorium is not a permanent housing solution

Eviction moratorium is not a permanent housing solution

Roger Enriquez is an associate professor in the College for Health, Community and Policy and is the executive director of Westside Community Partnerships at UTSA. His coauthor, Fernando Godínez, is president and CEO of the Mexican American Unity Council.


OCTOBER 9, 2020 — Policymakers predicted in September an impending tsunami of evictions and foreclosures on our most vulnerable communities related to the secondary effects of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an agency order to halt residential evictions to prevent the further spread of the virus. On the surface the move to institute a moratorium on evictions of renters and homeowners from residential properties appears to give vulnerable populations a respite from the ravages of the pandemic, but any temporary relief will likely have a boomerang effect on families that were suffering in silence long before the coronavirus made its way to San Antonio.

Three years ago the Mexican American Unity Council opened the doors to its Community Housing Center to serve as a laboratory for addressing housing-related needs. The central idea was to identify new strategies for keeping vulnerable families in their homes.

“Any temporary relief will likely have a boomerang effect on families that were suffering in silence long before the coronavirus made its way to San Antonio.”

Unfortunately, the refrain from low-income residents is too familiar; their ability to preserve their family home is increasingly at risk. Many cannot keep pace with the precipitous increases in property taxes. Others cannot perform needed maintenance and repairs because reputable contractors are scarce or too expensive. Sadly, even when assistance is available to help homeowners to make needed repairs, many do not qualify for necessary city-sponsored initiatives because they lack clear legal title to their home.

To make matters worse, as reported by the UTSA Policy Studies Center, home flippers are all too eager to capitalize on the arbitrage opportunities in the inner city, profiting 35% to 118% in less than six months. The CDC’s order makes it clear, “nothing in this order precludes the charging or collecting of fees, penalties or interest as a result of the failure to pay,” which means that residents who cannot pay can add one more reason to walk away from their homes and straight into the arms of home flippers.

Policymakers are temporarily mitigating the secondary effects of the pandemic, but there is no commitment to implement strategies that aim to solve the long-term consequences of bad housing policies. What is required is a concerted effort to address the issues that place vulnerable communities at risk.

Long before COVID-19 arrived in San Antonio, vulnerable residents needed property tax relief, wanted affordable home repair assistance, and wanted help to clear or keep a clean title to their family home.

With financial assistance from District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, the UTSA Westside Community Partnerships initiative has partnered with MAUC to provide relief to 53 families that needed help to keep or clean title to their homes since the outbreak of the pandemic. We worked with the city’s Neighborhood & Housing Services Department to help close the contractor shortage by creating an online course for unlicensed contractors. UTSA students block-walked the West Side to help homeowners learn about and apply for all of the property tax exemptions to which they are legally entitled. The students also informed them of the dangers of predatory buyers. However, these measures only mitigate the crushing loss of affordable housing.

Long-term solutions are urgently needed. Research demonstrates that the relationship between stable, safe and affordable housing and positive health outcomes is undeniable.

Policymakers should offer comprehensive solutions to assist communities that are at risk of losing their affordable housing stock. If not, they run the risk of exacerbating a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis while permanently altering the sociocultural fabric of San Antonio’s oldest communities.

— Roger Enriquez and Fernando Godínez

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