In the Gospel according to Luke 9:58, Our Lord Jesus states: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
What the Lord is describing is a reality for many people throughout the United States of America today.
Recently, the Biden Administration allowed the federal moratorium on evictions to expire. Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, tenants were given a reprieve from evictions by their landlords. Congress was unable to extend the federal moratorium. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had said that it is a “moral imperative” to have an extension, especially in light of the rising Delta variant of COVID in some parts of our nation.
Despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control was able to extend the federal moratorium until October, we continue to see an uptick in evictions. That is because while the CDC moratorium halts actual physical evictions, it does not prevent landlords from filing new eviction cases in housing court.
According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, more than 62,000 eviction cases have been filed in New York City since the start of the pandemic. These evictions will no doubt lead to more despair and more homelessness.
The threat of homelessness is looming over millions. According to an analysis of census data performed by the National Equity Atlas, a research group, nearly a half-million households in New York City are in rent arrears, totaling more than $2.2 billion.
Certainly, landlords need to receive their rent. This is only just and fair. However, with so many unemployed and underemployed at this time in history, we as a nation need to show mercy on these renters, at least for a while.
Christians believe it is in God’s nature to be love. Christians believe the concrete application of the love who God is in himself is mercy. Christians believe the correct application of mercy is justice. So what can Catholics do at this time?
First, we can pray for the wisdom to see both sides of the issue; generally, it is not a battle between two opposing forces. The landlord and the tenants need to recognize the unique situation in which they both find themselves.
Second, those that need assistance can turn to the Church. Catholic Charities and other organizations are waiting to assist, specifically Catholic Charities of Brooklyn & Queens, through its own Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which helps households that have fallen behind on their rent obligations, have experienced COVID-related financial hardship, and are in an unstable housing situation or at risk of becoming homeless. The program can provide temporary rent assistance, and help with delinquent utility bills as well.
Third, at-risk tenants and their advocates can, and should, encourage their elected representatives to push for eviction moratoriums to be extended even further down the calendar, giving those still suffering pandemic-related financial hardship a few more much-needed months of relief.
Some elected officials in New York have already sounded the call for an eviction moratorium extension; more must.
As the Gospel according to Matthew 5:42 put it: “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”