Ninety-five percent of Americanshave been ordered to stay at home to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

As ahuman geographerwho studies experiences of home and housing, I find a certain irony to these orders, particularly when wrapped in messages such as “Stay Home and Stay Safe.”

Even as almost all Americans are told to remain at home, millions are now unemployed and must scramble to figure out how to pay for that home. The irony is that the one thing Americans are told to do is preventing many of them from doing the one thing they need to do.

The pandemic is exacerbating the affordable housing crisis that plagues cities throughout the U.S. and contributes torising inequality, housing insecurity and homelessness.

A man displays the receipt he received after paying his property tax. The coronavirus outbreak has delayed income taxes, mortgage payments and even evictions in California.AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Two crises collide

According to CNN,one-third of Americans did not pay rent this month.

Many are now gettingeviction notices, while others are organizingpayment planswith their landlords. Even those tenants who successfully negotiate postponing their payments will eventually have to pay back what they owe.

Thestimulus billrecently passed by the U.S. Senate, as well as additionalstate and city moratoriaon evictions and foreclosures, provide some temporary protections.

However, these pieces of legislation only really offerpartial and temporary solutions, and others, like undocumented immigrants, many who have lived and worked in the U.S. for years areineligibleto receive aid.

More importantly however, they do not address the structural problems surroundingAmerica’s decades-long housing crisis.

The housing crisis

Housing priceshave skyrocketed in many cities in the country. In some of the most expensive cities in the U.S., like New York and Washington, D.C., this has meant that median sales prices have increased over 50% from 2009 to 2019.

Rent priceshave also continued to rise,increasing 150%since 2010. In the most affluent cities the median rent price for a one-bedroom apartment is greater than US$2,000.

These price increases have made it increasingly difficult for even middle-class families to rent or purchase homes in many areas in the U.S.

Nationally, 1 in 4 Americans now spend more than half of their monthly income on rent. Another 6 million are consideredcost-burdened, meaning that they pay over 30% of their income on rent.

For those working full-time but earningminimum wage, it is now impossible to rent a two-bedroom apartment in any city in the U.S. without being cost-burdened.

The housing crisis has also led toan increase in homelessness. Currently there are over550,000 homeless estimated nationwide. With over 6 million currently unemployed, this number will surely rise.

A paper envelope written with the words ‘Rent Money $’ is left tucked in a lighting pole in Los Angeles.AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Those hardest hit

For low-income families living in neighborhoods undergoing gentrification, the pandemic is just another blow to an ongoingstruggle to stay in their neighborhood and homes

Among those gentrifying communities are two that I study, the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods in northwest Denver, Colorado.

Traditionally marginalized and located in the industrialized areas of the city, these neighborhoods are home to approximately 12,000 residents, and almost 87% identify as Hispanic or Latino. The majority of residents earn less than $25,000 a year, with many working in the service and health industries and in construction.

Denver’sfast-growing housing marketand urban redevelopment are making it increasingly hard for these residents to remain in the neighborhood. Many have already been forcibly displaced.

Now, the pandemic has caused many in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea to lose their jobs, and Globeville is currently one of the neighborhoods with thehighest casesof COVID-19 infections in Denver. Without employment and unable to pay rent or mortgage payments, an already cost-burdened community may finally succumb to their struggle against gentrification.

For communities like Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, displacement usually means being forced to move to areas and homes that are often unhealthier,poorer qualityand far away from city resources and community networks and support. Children are often forced to go to otherschools, and parents must commutelonger distancesto jobs and services.

The effects of the housing crisis are not reserved to just poor communities, but rather all city residents. Displacement and gentrification lead to greaterinequality, greater social and economic insecurity and can underminesocial cohesion, to name only a few.

For those already struggling to stay in their homes, the coronavirus is a dramatic blow to an already difficult situation. Even for those families who have received some temporary relief for April and May, it is hard to imagine how families that already pay between 30% and 50% of their salary on rent will be able to pay off any debts whenrelief programs expire.

I fear that many of these Americans will end up on the streets, in motel rooms or isolated in neighborhoods with poor-quality housing, far away from community, schools, jobs and other services and resources.

The Conversation

Isabel Solange Muñoz, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...