This week I was honored to sit in Hearing Room 5 with some really stellar housing organizers as we offered testimony against House Bill (HB) 1315. This bill aims to shorten the already lightning-fast timeline on evictions.
The sponsor, Rep. Hardy Billington, testified that he was a landlord and that he occasionally had to evict people who were unable to pay their rent. He shared that sometimes tenants would damage his property on their way out, and he believed the best remedy was to get these folks out faster. We brought testimony from attorneys, social justice advocates, tenants, and housing non-profits to offer a different perspective. When it was my turn, I reminded the committee that evictions happen within communities. They happen to a family, to children who will miss educational time, to parents who miss work and lose income. Evictions happen to volunteers within local churches and community members who mentor others.
Eviction is both a cause and a condition of poverty. People with low and extremely low incomes often live a precarious financial life. When money runs out, they may have to prioritize an electric or medical bill over rent. Sometimes this means a household faces eviction. For families who are unable to secure housing that is affordable to them, paying just 30% of their income towards housing and utilities, this financial shell game is even more common. A household may be able to pay half or more of their income toward rent, but not for long. Any small emergency can push a family from a precarious housing situation to eviction.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s newly released report, The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes 2020, finds a housing shortage of nearly seven million affordable and available rental homes for our nation’s renter households with extremely low incomes, one quarter of all renters in the U.S. This severe shortage forces 71% of our poorest families—seniors, people with disabilities, and families with low wages — to spend more than half of their incomes on rent and utilities, leaving them with insufficient resources for food, clothing, transportation, medical care, and other basic necessities.
In Missouri, over 200,000 families with low incomes are unable to access housing which is affordable to them. The greatest need for affordable housing is concentrated among households with extremely low-incomes, who earn no more than the federal poverty line or 30% of their area median income. Only 42 affordable and available homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households in Missouri. We aren’t alone; no state has an adequate supply of rental homes affordable and available for households with extremely low incomes. The shortage ranges from 8,200 rental homes in Wyoming to nearly one million in California. The result is housing instability, evictions, and, in the worst cases, homelessness.
I testified this week that we had to center the experience of the tenant in the eviction process and how that impacts communities. Likewise, we must point to the lack of affordable housing when we talk about eviction.
I know many tenants who have faced evictions; none of them believed they should not pay their rent. These are hard-working folks who cannot make ends meet. Eviction leaves a long lasting mark on their record and makes it nearly impossible to secure decent housing well into the future.
A stable, affordable, and accessible home is a prerequisite for a minimally decent, dignified life. Affordable housing is connected to better health and educational and economic opportunities. Our policymakers must act to address the critical shortage of affordable housing for those with the lowest-incomes in America laid out in The Gap. Together we can — and must — act to end homelessness and housing poverty in America.
Sarah Owsley Townsend
Policy and Organizing Manager
P.S. There is still time to let the House Judiciary Committee know how important it is that they vote no on HB 1315 which would harm renters with low incomes and yes on HB 1378 from Rep. Barbara Washington which would offer more protections to tenants. Find contact information for Chairman Gregory and committee members here.