A Clear and Present Displacement
The devastation from sickness, loss of life, unemployment have altered living patterns nationwide. Job loss is one factor, forcing many to reduce their living costs. As a result people are forced to share housing with family or friends. And the pandemic has likely exacerbated upward trends in the number of people without shelter. This week, Washington State reported one of the biggest increases in homelessness ever - a 6.2% jump in 2020. Nationwide there was a 2.2% jump in the same time period according to the 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
At the other end of the economic scale, health and safety is a factor. San Francisco may have lost 89,000 households in 2020 due to the pandemic according to Business Insider. “About 3.57 million people left New York City this year between Jan. 1 and Dec. 7, according to Unacast, which analyzed anonymized cell phone location data.” Boston, one of the USA’s 10 most expensive cities to live, also sustained losses. Some of this movement is attributed to those with the means to do preferring less density. Many others embraced mobility as employers instituted extended work from home policies. These city residents no longer saw the logic of living in a small, expensive space that offered big club-like amenities such as a swimming pool, gym or social lounge that were now closed off. Restaurants, bars, entertainment and other shopping venues within walking distance, now shuttered were no longer enticing.
I’m observing housing trends from a position of relative privilege. I have not lost a home, shelter or dwelling place in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. Professionally, as a school leader, I have witnessed, the painful transitions from the economic dislocation that has eroded housing security in the San Francisco area. People are having to rely upon each other for basic survival needs now more than I have ever seen.
My housing story is one that follows those who have banned together with other family members, tenants, friends and, in some cases, strangers to be able to meet the demands of increased gas, groceries and gadgets exponentially since the pandemic began. Many Americans do not have a choice but to accept the reality of living with others free of charge or at a nominal rate for the affordability of shared living expenses and not wanting to live in their cars or on the streets even. In my own community within the Bay Area, I have seen with my physical eyes, a rise in the number of tents pitched under roadways and bridges and more people alongside the road with their belongings spread about as they mark their living territory. Even when I go to the local market or pharmacy, I can see cars in the parking lots filling every cubic foot of space with people’s personal belongings from the rear window to the front windshield and just enough room left to occupy the driver’s seat while driving.
The trauma from involuntary changes to housing is highly visible in our community. Despite this clear and present displacement within the US housing market, voluntary relocation has made the residential real estate very resilient during the pandemic. According to Norada Real Estate,
“2020 was a record-breaking year for the US housing market. The typical U.S. home was worth $266,104 in December, up 8.4% (or $20,587) from a year ago. A total of 5.64 million homes were sold in 2020, up 5.6% from 2019 and the most since before the Great Recession, according to Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. Sales also rose 0.7% from November and 22.2% year over year. Existing home sales reached the highest level in 13 years.”
This is in part due to the numbers of people who have been working from home since the pandemic began, who are no longer traveling as well as low interest rates and suburban or rural living that buyers have chosen as they fled the cities for safety, health, less worries about social distance and shelter-in-place restrictions. Quite naturally, parents don’t worry about their kids playing in their backyard with lots of space as opposed to not being able to take them to the city park or zoo, which were closed during lockdowns in many cases.
Nationwide, we are experiencing two housing markets. One is characterized by increased volatility and insecurity. The Future of Property Rights program and its research partners say “the people and places most vulnerable to housing loss to begin with are often the ones who experience it most acutely in times of crisis.” The other is characterized by increased freedom and mobility. I believe the facts and realities are clear for those of you who are reading this article right now. As we continue to confront the impacts of Covid-19, our responsibility is to hold government accountable to addressing the current state of housing in America. The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package is an essential step forward. It directs resources to address the issues that amplify housing insecurity. Child tax credits, extended eviction moratoriums, enhanced unemployment benefits, and health coverage all can help prevent people living on the margin from becoming unsheltered. Next, government leaders must work together to increase the availability of housing by reducing regulations that make it difficult to build more homes such as restrictive zoning. These efforts to increase housing security will make it more likely for people that lost jobs and become marginalized due to the crisis, recover along with the economy.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay informed.
Dr. Mike Jones has served as a K-16 teacher, executive director, principal, leadership coach, teacher supervisor, and humanitarian for 25 years in the public and private education sectors in the USA, Jamaica, UAE, Slovakia, Nigeria, and Ghana. He is the host of Let’s Talk with Dr. Mike Jones, an online show that informs and connects the global education community through conversations about the impact of COVID-19 and how to respond to the opportunities to transform learning systems. Visit drmikeshow.com.
Comments or Questions? Want to share your educational experience with COVID? I cordially invited you to reach out! All respectful, on-topic comments are welcome.