Eviction is humiliating, frightening, and stigma-bearing. Sometimes, it’s a slow process of utilities shut off by authorities, belongings shoveled onto the street for all to see, hastily renting storage that a person may not be able to pay for, having those belongings auctioned off as a lot. Sometimes, it means a parent divides her children, sending some to live with this or that relative. The personal experience ripples to children, family, and beyond. It’s why eviction-prevention became a rallying point during the shutdown.
In December 2020, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced $25 billion dollars for Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA). Some 95 million Americans fell behind on rent, which cascaded to landlords falling behind on mortgages. ERA funding was a bi-partisan win because it was meant to mitigate social and broad economic crises, like destabilized families and banking problems. ERA money, which was supposed to be distributed via states to local community agencies who would pay landlords, but it’s only rescued about one-and-half million households so far.
The social rescue behind ERA funding is a human story about what happens to a community when many of its families face multiple crises. The average middle class family in average times can sustain one to three life stressors in a year- losing a job or health, caregiving for some else with disabilities or health issues, divorce, death in the family, significant economic setbacks or unexpected bills. Back in 2012, the American Psychological Association (APA) noted that those in low income brackets often experience six to eight life stressors on any given day or week. The pandemic exacerbated those stressors for most middle and low-income households. People couldn’t access their health providers. Many had to work from home if they weren’t laid off or furloughed. Some balanced that work with at-home schooling and not having childcare. Humans, who are relational beings, were isolated and faced uncertainty if not significant economic stress. While the shutdown slowed the transmission of an illness that has proven worse for US citizens than the 1918 Flu Pandemic, it triggered a lot of other stressors, including housing insecurity.
How has that affected Crawfordsville? The hopeful news is that Mayor Barton has long monitored eviction data in the county. In 2019, there were 299 eviction cases filed, 210 in 2020 which included the acute stages of the shutdown, and by late September 2021, the city had only 113 evictions. That’s a fifty percent reduction just weeks after the moratorium was lifted. While the ERA funds have been bottlenecked across most states, it doesn’t seem we’ve had a need for them yet.
Montgomery County does have emergency help for the unhomed, those recently released from prison, and those with addiction crises. The mayor praised the Quick Response Team (QRT), which received a million dollar grant this year to fund its services for the coming three years. Mayor Barton said if there were a surge in evictions, his office would pull together a core team, including the Housing Authority, and the QRT. Currently the QRT provides services such as driving people to shelters or their preferred place to stay, responding to overdoses, and helping seniors who have fallen. It picks up people just released from the county jail to get them to the probation office, a medical appointment for vaccines or addiction treatment, and safe housing. It helps with getting people naloxone. One member of the team always carries the cell phone (the number to call is 765 401 6200).
Housing is a balance for any elected official. For city and county officials, the gap between housing units for vulnerable populations is as much a concern as housing for middle class workers and professionals. In recent months, the mayor has been trying to attract businesses to the community, knowing that communities of fifty thousand or more are better situated to attract the retail, grocery, and restaurants that Montgomery County citizens want. We’ve long bemoaned the loss of Target, the second Kroger, and we’ve hoped for an Aldi. It’s been a challenge to get businesses and developers so we can expand jobs, homes, and market rate apartments.
One reason companies cite, said Mayor Barton, is how our local school districts compare to nearby cities like Brownsburg and Zionsville. Our school grades “don’t look good on the internet,” Barton noted. Grades measure graduation rate, SAT/ACT scores, college attrition, and are correlated with parental engagement.
Herein may lie a circular problem. In 2017, the Indy Star reported that Indiana had the sixth highest rate of divorce, with economic stress and low incomes as a likely factor. That’s two life stressors. Single parents, people working multiple jobs or a single low paying job, and families with limited support and social networks lack the margin and resources to engage with schools. The strength of a community is like a bike wheel. With a strong hub and enough spokes in good condition, the community of people can expand and roll over the cracks and crevices reliably. Rescue plans, quick response teams, plenty of basic housing, food, and health services, all reduce the stressors that derail families and communities.