When the Eviction Moratorium Ends, the Toll on Black Households Will Be Extraordinary

For the average Black household to pay just one month’s back rent by saving 10% of its earnings would take 5.7 months.

A frozen glove in downtown Portland. (Brian Burke)

Oregon renters owe about $378 million in back rent that's accumulated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when thousands lost their jobs. But based on their take-home pay before the state shuttered, it will take Black residents of Multnomah County the most time to pay back this debt.

For the average Black household to pay just one month's back rent by saving 10% of its earnings would take 5.7 months—longer than any other racial or ethnic group, according to a Portland Housing Bureau survey from May 2020.

For white households, it's the flipside. It would take them the shortest amount of time to pay back rent: 2.5 months to save up one month of missed rent.

While both numbers are alarming, considering the new eviction moratorium gives renters one month to pay all back rent owed—which could be well over a year's worth—this crisis disproportionately impacts Black Oregonians.

Lisa Bates, an associate professor at Portland State University's Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, says that even before the pandemic, Black folks were set up to fail.

Pre-pandemic data shows that 74% of Black people are renters compared with 44% of white people who rent. To afford the average price of a Portland one-bedroom rental apartment, a household must bring home an annual salary of $60,000 or more. Yet 72% of Black households make less than that and for white households it's 44%.

"Black folks in Oregon are much more likely to be renters than homeowners. There's a certain amount of control and financial stability that comes with homeownership that then persists into the pandemic as well," Bates says. "That gap is significant."

Even before the pandemic worsened financial strains, Black households were spending 57% of their income on rent and white households had to spend only 26% of their income on housing, an extreme disparity. The Housing Bureau survey also notes that people of color are more likely to work in service industries, which correlates with higher rates of unemployment filings.

"With this lack of built-up savings," Bates says, "when your income is lower and your housing is less affordable, over time you don't have as much savings. So the impacts of missing a month of rent is going to last much longer for Black people than other groups."

This reporting has been funded in part by a grant from the Jackson Foundation. See more Black and White in Oregon stories here.

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