Here's how passing the COVID relief bill will help communities of color

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Only 13% of the American population is Black — but Black Americans represent 35% of tenants evicted during the pandemic.

Despite Republican-led efforts to block the legislation, a $1.9 billion COVID relief bill passed by the House Saturday is under debate in the Senate Friday and headed toward a vote. If passed, it could have a dramatic impact on communities of color hit hard by an eviction crisis during the pandemic.

The American Rescue Plan Act, or H.R. 1319, includes provisions that would provide $26 billion in emergency assistance for renters, another $10 billion for struggling homeowners nationwide. The bill would also raise unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extends unemployment benefits until August, while providing a third round of stimulus checks for American families.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, some 10 million American families are behind on rent — to the tune of $50 billion nationally — and these families face the very real possibility of eviction. Other data shows at least 20% of renters are struggling to make rent during the pandemic, and experts have warned of an impending eviction cliff for many months.

But the communities most affected by the renters' crisis in the past year have been communities of color. Data from the 2019 census indicates that almost 60% of Black families and 53% of Hispanic families rent their homes, while less than 30% of white families do. Meanwhile, three-quarters of U.S. landlords are white, while only 8% are Hispanic and 7% are Black.

One in four renters as a whole are concerned about their ability to pay rent during the pandemic, but more than one in four Black households are — and that number rises sharply to one in two for Hispanic households.

Moreover, despite federal eviction moratoriums banning landlords from evicting tenants during the pandemic, 3.3 million tenants across the country have received notices of eviction since March 2020. A recent survey by the think tank Urban Institute found that Black and Hispanic renters faced the threat of eviction almost four times as frequently as white renters did. While close to 8% of Black renters and 7.7% of Hispanic renters received eviction notices during the past year, the study found, only 2.1% of white renters did.

And, although only 13% of the population of the United States is Black, 35% of successful evictions since March have been evictions of Black tenants — with the rate of eviction for Black women 25% higher even than that of Black men.

And in low-income communities of color, the threat of eviction often means a loss in court, since only 1 in 10 renters can afford legal representation to battle an eviction, while 90% of landlords can do so.

Experts say the American Rescue Plan, if passed, could provide distinct relief to struggling renters across the country, particularly low-income renters and renters of color.

"The American Rescue Plan Act provides urgently needed COVID-19 relief resources for America's lowest-income renters and people experiencing homelessness," the National Low Income Housing Coalition said in a statement. "If enacted, these investments will help prevent millions of low-income people from losing their homes during the pandemic."

But even if the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, experts caution that American renters are not yet in the clear. Since Democrats pushed the relief plan through using the process of budget reconciliation, certain non-budget-related line items could be excluded — like extending the moratorium on evictions.

Diane Yentel, CEO and president of the NLIHC, said, "This underscores the need for the Biden administration to take action to extend, strengthen and enforce the moratorium."

Under Biden, eviction and foreclosure moratoriums have been extended until the end of June.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.