Throughout the pandemic, communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard, with higher death, and hospitalization rates. When the state’s eviction moratorium ends this month, many believe that people of color will be disproportionally impacted as well.
Terri Anderson, Director of the Spokane Chapter of the Tenant’s Union of Washington State, said Black and Latino families, especially in Spokane, are much more likely to be renters. They were underserved when rental assistance was distributed into the community during the pandemic.
“The last go around of rental assistance did not really reach into communities of color,” she said. “I fear the early resolution program won’t either, tenants won’t take advantage of it, and they’ll get evicted.”
What she’s referring to is a pilot program that allows tenants and landlords to meet with a mediator who walks them through solutions to unpaid rent, or other issues outside of eviction.
“If we’re trying to address to address racial equity – housing – that’s where the disparities are,” she said.
Jennyfer Mesa (CQ) said racial disparities are made worse by lack of internet, and language barriers.
Mesa is the cofounder of Latinos En Spokane.
“Our community is doing everything possible to pay for rent, and not have that rental debt,” she said, “because they know they’re not going to have access to those resources like other people, like other groups.”
She said some, fear they will or their loved ones will be targeted for their immigration status if they seek assistance or go through mediation and the courts. Many have accepted they won’t receive help. They’ve lost their housing and doubled up with family and friends. They’ve other sacrificed other things their family needs to continue paying rent.
She said organizations like SNAP and Spokane Workforce Center, which both received grants to distribute rental assistance, need to do more to reach out to underserved communities. She said the city, and Spokane County also need to contract with organizations who have built up trust with marginalized groups, and can help them avoid eviction.
“We need to stop doing the same things and asking ourselves why we aren’t serving the populations we need to serve,” Mesa said.
She said every decision that affects communities of color needs input from those communities.
Kurtis Robinson is a vice President at the NAACP said he’s also concerned about disproportionate evictions, rental assistance and mediation. He said leaders need to be intentional about addressing inequities, or they will continue.
“If it’s not used in a race equity lens, it’s going to automatically disproportionately end up leaving out people of color,” Robinson said.
Some groups, such as the city of Spokane and SNAP have tried to improve their process.
Nicole Bishop is a marketing and communications specialist for Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners. SNAP administered a significant portion of the rental assistance available in both the city and county.
She said the non-profit was working on several major changes since the last disbursement, including making translation services more available and translating their website into Spanish, Russian, Marshallese, and Vietnamese.
She said SNAP is also increasing the effort of direct outreach to marginalized communities as well in hopes of making sure those who didn’t have an opportunity will be able to apply.
Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns said the county granted millions of rental assistance to SNAP because they are the non-profit who can get those funds into the community the fastest.
He said he was also confident in their ability to serve the communities that need it most.
Anderson said she has spoken with the city, and with groups that are doing mediation in hopes of making them aware of the disparities in housing and rental assistance. She said she’s hopeful language, and other assistance that can help address internet or other barriers will be made available.
Spokane County’s rental Assistance is scheduled to be released later this month. People can apply on SNAP’s website at snapwa.org or they can apply over the phone at 456-SNAP.