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COVID and the Latino Housing Crisis: What Happens When All Moratoriums End?

For Latinos, a rise in evictions could lead to a rise in overcrowded households—and in COVID infections. Increased access to housing programs and services can prevent this.

By Edwin A. Ortiz Reyes, Civic Engagement Coordinator; and Noreen Sugrue, Director of Research, Latino Policy Forum

Latinos have the highest civilian labor force participation rate among all racial/ethnic groups, which has been true for at least the last 20 years. In July 2021, the Latino labor participation rate was at 65.7 percent, but for far too many Latinos, being in the labor force and collecting a paycheck has not translated into financial stability. Pre-pandemic, Latinos were overrepresented in low wage, yet so-called essential jobs. These low-wage jobs meant that even though Latinos had the highest rate of labor participation, nearly 16 percent of Latinos were living below the poverty line, creating a cascade of economic and social instability.

The financial instability of Latinos has been worsened by COVID. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the fragility of our most important systems and institutions.

The numbers don’t lie. They underscore the depth of the economic devastation that COVID has brought to the Latino community. And one of the most vivid illustrations of this is the tenuous housing stability among Latinos. 

The economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating to all, but most especially to Latinos, who live in economically precarious situations, often check-to-check with little or no reserves. Coronavirus job losses have been largest among Latinos. Currently, Latino employment continues to be below the pre-pandemic rates. Specifically, looking at the most updated data available, Latinos had an unemployment rate that was about 47 percent higher than it was in July 2019. And in Illinois, for example, the COVID death rate of 87 per 100,000 among Latinos aged 20-59 is the highest for all racial/ethnic groups in the state.

In the midst of job and wage loss and the highest death rates in those of working age, the eviction moratorium, while temporarily reinstated after it expired earlier this month, looms large in the minds of many Latinos. The eventual and certain end of the moratorium means that many Latinos will be facing an unprecedented risk of homelessness.

Latinos are overburdened with housing costs. Housing expenditures over 30 percent of income indicate housing instability; over half of Latino renters spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income paying rent. And since Latinos have the lowest rate of participation in publicly funded social safety net programs, many are just a small emergency away from losing whatever general economic security they may have. Most notably, their housing stability is at continual risk.

When the eviction moratorium ends, evictions in the Latino community will surely rise. When that happens, Latinos, who have the lowest participation rates in publicly funded social safety net programs, will likely turn to family and other community members. That would lead to an increase in the number of overcrowded households among Latinos: when Latinos face homelessness, families and friends come together, no matter how many, so that everyone has a place to stay. Therefore, a rise in evictions for Latinos most likely means a rise in overcrowded households.

While helping family and friends in need is admirable, overcrowded housing conditions mean enhanced risk of being infected with COVID. In addition, because of housing assistance policies, having a place to live means that it is almost impossible to access homelessness prevention services. The eviction moratorium has been one of the few tools that have helped keep the community housed and safe during a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted Latinos. But as the moratoriums are phased out, Latinos will once again find themselves on the margins of recovery plans. 

It is imperative that the state proactively move to prevent a wave of evictions from hitting Latinos across the state. While the moratoriums are a good temporary solution to keep people housed, there must be concrete policies to address the economic inequities that place and maintain far too many Latinos at risk for unstable and insecure housing. While rising housing costs and low wages may be the primary cause for housing instability, lack of access to programs and services that can assist households in stabilizing and remaining housed is a major factor. If Latinos are to achieve and maintain housing security, they must be given greater access to publicly funded housing assistance and services.