By Thanksgiving, Tiesha Harris had run out of ways to cope.
She’d been living in her 2007 Chevy Trailblazer since she contracted Covid-19, fell behind on her rent, and was evicted from an apartment in September. Her four children, ages one to 13 years old, were split around Indianapolis, with three away and living in various homes, and her youngest by her side. Since their eviction, Harris had packed most of her family’s belongings into a storage unit. The rest resided in plastic bins stacked carefully in the back of her trunk.
When we spoke via a Zoom app on her phone, her face hardened into a shield of stoicism. The one moment she nearly cried—when she pointed to the winter coats she had bought at Burlington for her children—was short-lived. Then, suddenly, the soft vulnerability in her dark brown eyes disappeared, and her voice became fiercely steady. “I need to keep it together for my children,” she said.
For months, the plunging temperatures of Midwest nights had perpetually jerked her awake. Unable to bend her schedule to accommodate anything other than her $14-an-hour job as a front-desk clerk at a pawnshop and her visits to her children, she had been unable to drive to a pantry or shelter for food during the few hours they were open.
Black renters are nearly twice as likely to be evicted as their white counterparts nationwide, said Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers University and a research fellow at Princeton’s Eviction Lab. This uneven impact was a reality before the pandemic, and it’s persisted since Covid entered our lives.
Nationwide, the number of people forced out of their homes began gaining momentum in August, when the Supreme Court ruled that President Joe Biden’s extension of the federal eviction moratorium was outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s powers. Across the six states and 31 cities tracked by the Eviction Lab, there was a 20 percent jump in eviction filings in the three months after the court’s decision, as compared to the final three months that it was in place.
Among the large cities for which the Eviction Lab has data, Indianapolis had the fourteenth-highest eviction rate prior to the pandemic, making it “normal” in terms of U.S. evictions. In Marion County, 64 percent of the Black population rent their homes, according to the 2019 U.S. census. Comparatively, 37 percent of the white population are renters. Nationwide in 2021, 74 percent of white families owned homes, compared with 43 percent of Black families.
Indiana is already well on its way back toward the pre-pandemic reality where one in 12 renter households faced eviction proceedings in a regular year. “Renters who are harmed are disproportionately people of color,” said Fran Quigley, a clinical professor and director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. He has noticed that “landlords who benefit from those laws are corporations and individuals who are disproportionately white.”
This post was originally published in The New Republic