New data shows that America's rent debt now totals more than $19 billion

Posted at 1:28 PM, Apr 27, 2021

People have fallen behind on their rent during the pandemic.

In addition to the $19 billion rent debt, new data from PolicyLink shows that nearly 6 million households are behind on rent. The data stems from a partnership that aims to not only eliminate that debt but to spark change.

San Diego resident Genea Wall joined forces with tenants' rights advocates who fight eviction. ACCE, or The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, shared their protest video with us. They're working to protect people like Genea, who they believe are falling victim to loopholes in rent relief laws.

“Then, to be given a 60 day to get out, retaliation, because I asked someone to do what was right by law what the law requires a landlord to do.”

Genea tells us, she's been through a lot. Her medical complications are just one more stress on top of joblessness and a pandemic.

“The cycle that you go through trying to process what to do next you can barely do your day-to-day function when you’re trying to worry about am I going to have a roof is someone going to lock me out is all my stuff going to be on the street.”

There are so many others like Genea. Now, organizations like PolicyLink and the Tableau Foundation are trying to shine a light on the economic and racial inequities of rent debt.

“What we provide are indicators of equity around income inequality, housing affordability and we provide those indicators deeply broken down by race, by ethnicity, by gender so that we are empowering community leaders and policymakers with data to design effective policies,” said Sarah Treuhaft, Vice President of Research at PolicyLink.

Their data now spans across most of the country and Treuhaft says rent debt is a pressing and urgent issue.

“There’s a huge risk of a massive amount of eviction and that would be a humanitarian crisis and an economic disaster for our communities, and it would be a public health disaster as well.” As for Genea, she's doing okay. For now. She's applied for assistance, and she's made her voice loud on purpose.

She says, “Fight. Fight to be heard. Fight to get your issues in front of the right people. fight. Organize. Don’t just go for the okie doke, oh we can’t do this, don’t take no for answer fight until you get your resolve.”

She wants others to know they're not alone in their fight.

“This is the new pandemic, called homelessness.”