One year ago, the think tank New America published “Displaced in America.” Wake Forest University contributed to this study – the first of its kind to look at the root causes of national housing loss.
According to the report, nearly 5 million Americans lose their homes through eviction and foreclosure in a normal year. The pandemic may leave up to 40 million at risk. Associate professor Sherri Lawson Clark, a cultural anthropologist who studies public housing policy and low-income homeownership, was a key contributor to the report. Her research focuses on the point where housing and health and welfare policies meet.
With housing loss, what do the data tell us?
The census data showed that where there is poverty, the number of people experiencing housing loss and foreclosure is high. Census tracts in Forsyth County with the highest housing loss rates aligned with areas historically associated with segregation and a lack of available financial and social services. Cultural anthropologists are interested in gathering information that can tell the personal stories behind the data. Numbers don’t reveal the fear and anxiety related to housing loss – especially when it is tied to circumstances beyond the homeowner’s control, as it has been for many during the pandemic.
What policies can help people remain in their homes during times of economic difficulty?
There is no one-size-fits-all policy. We need to know the context of why housing loss is happening by having conversations with people who are experiencing it. Learning what factors are causing housing insecurity is essential before policies can be put in place to help. We have to get beyond the numbers.
From your perspective, what is the most important issue that needs to be addressed as the nation deals with eviction and housing loss – especially in communities of color?
Preventing housing loss is the number one factor in alleviating the emotional and physical pain families are confronted with when facing eviction and foreclosure. Confronting the devastating effects of discriminatory practices that have created communities laden with food deserts, under-resourced schools and inadequate social supports, and a lack of living wage employment opportunities are vital. Creating safe and affordable housing opportunities, as well as eviction and foreclosure diversion plans, are key components to eradicating poverty.
Lawson Clark is co-author of Poverty Law and Advocacy in America: Readings and Materials and a contributing editor to Contemporary African American Families: Achievements, Challenges, and Empowerment Strategies in the Twenty-First Century.
Sign up for weekly news highlights.Subscribe