COVID-19 has affected the lives of all demographics in the United States, but as one might expect, it has disproportionately hit those living paycheck to paycheck. This becomes even more true when you focus on renters. While banks tend to be willing to work with homeowners who miss the occasional mortgage payment, landlords can often be less forgiving to renters, particularly landlords who are individuals, rather than large companies, who own only one or two properties, and are, understandably, heavily dependent on income from their properties.
Experts have raised concerns that this reality could lead to thousands of low-income and out-of-work individuals and families facing eviction and ultimately homelessness in the coming weeks and months. In the following article, I want to explain the problem and help Christians see how we can minister to those suffering in this way.
What is eviction?
The Eviction Lab at Princeton University defines eviction as “when a landlord expels people from property he or she owns. Evictions are landlord-initiated involuntary moves that happen to renters, whereas foreclosures are involuntary moves that happen to homeowners when a bank or other lending agency repossesses a home.”
Laws surrounding eviction are often abused and broken without consequence. Low-income women and victims of domestic violence are some of the most disproportionately affected demographics when it comes to illegal evictions, meaning they seldom have the means or resources to fight back against law-breaking landlords. When this happens, they often end up homeless, where they become incredibly vulnerable to violence, sexual assault, and even human trafficking.
The CARES Act, passed by Congress earlier this year as federal relief during the pandemic, put a national ban on restrictions through late July. But even during the national eviction moratorium, thousands of evictions took place around the country, with Texas alone seeing hundreds over the last few months. Not only is this in itself problematic, but putting more individuals on the streets, particularly in dense cities, further hinders efforts to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
Not just an urban problem
While the sheer population density of urban areas make eviction a much more common problem in cities, the eviction crisis is not exclusively an urban issue. In predominantly rural Kentucky, for example, experts predict as many as 240,000 residents could be facing eviction, with half of Kentuckians losing at least some employment income since March.
Because rural areas tend to lack resources like homeless shelters, rural victims of eviction can often have even fewer options than those in urban areas. Churches in all different geographies will see their neighbors hit, meaning all types of churches have an opportunity to respond.
What are some practical ways churches can help?
Take a rent relief offering
With no current federal protections, and many local and statewide rent freezes also set to expire in the coming weeks, thousands of renters around the country face potential homelessness if they can’t find a way to pay rent. Providing these individuals with the means to cover even one month’s rent will provide them valuable time to find further assistance and stay off the street. Churches can either seek these individuals and families out themselves, or partner with an organization like New Story that is meeting the rent payment needs of families across the country.
Beyond an issue-specific offering, churches can also get creative in fundraising by pulling from outreach budgets, marketing budgets, and other resources that have already been set aside for outreach and benevolence.
Utilize your church property
Even before the coronavirus struck, FirstPres Hayward (Hayward, California) actually converted a portion of its property into six tiny homes meant to provide shelter for the homeless. The units provide those in need with the dignity of their own space while in transition, and the church works with each individual to make sure they have the means to secure stable housing by the time the 18-month transition period is over.
Another church in San Jose, California, has offered local homeless individuals the church address as their own personal mailing addresses. A permanent address is often required to sign up for government services that help individuals escape poverty or receive essential services. Providing said address is also a great opportunity to create frequent touch points with these individuals even if your church’s budget is already stretched too thin to help financially.
Start with your own flock
Particularly in larger church environments, it can be easy for at least some individuals to slip through the cracks. One way your church can serve in this area is to make sure every attendee of your church (formal member or otherwise) is accounted for. Whether this means contact cards, encouraging church leaders to play a more active role in door greeting, or even neighborhood canvassing in the area your church serves, there is no better time to act than the present, when churches are able to gather in many parts of the country.
In areas that do see a second lockdown, it will be increasingly difficult to reach those that are not already deeply involved in your church community. Such a lockdown would likely be what actually creates the kinds of economic conditions that would lead to such a dramatic spike in evictions across the country. Regardless of whether your region sees another lockdown, your church will be better off with more individuals plugged in and on the radar of church leadership.
Why churches should help
In Psalm 72:12-14, Solomon declares that the Lord “will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” As renters around the nation face both oppression and potential violence, the church has an opportunity to represent Jesus in ministering to their needs. The doctrine of the incarnation means that we serve a God who shows love through presence. And Christ’s earthly ministry was defined by drawing near to the poor and the suffering.
As millions face the possibility of joining this demographic, ministering to such a widespread need is quickly becoming one of the most considerable mercy ministry opportunities in recent memory. If our call is to point others to the one who has gone to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house (John 14:2), what more tangible demonstration can we provide in declaring that the kingdom of God has come near than to provide a place for our neighbors during their time of need?