It “isn’t difficult” for a Utahn to lose their housing, said Jeanette Padilla Vega, the organizer of a small demonstration at the Utah Capitol on Monday. And “it isn’t something that happens rarely.”
If a person loses their job because they are too sick to work, said Padilla, who is the executive director of the Utah Equality Coalition, it’s a “very, very slippery slope” to homelessness.
A national moratorium on evictions enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention due to COVID-19 expired over the weekend, potentially leaving millions of Americans at risk of sliding down that slope. On Monday, the eight or so demonstrators who gathered in the hot sun demanded that the moratorium be extended, saying “housing is a human right.”
The U.S. Census estimates that more than 2,000 Utahns are at high risk of eviction and foreclosure as the moratorium ends, according to The Associated Press.
The White House issued a statement Monday that pressured state and local leaders to take action and get rental assistance to people in danger of being evicted. Congress approved a $46.5 billion plan in 2020 to protect Americans from losing their housing, but states and cities “have been too slow to act” in distributing that money, the statement said.
Holding up a sign even as she spoke to a reporter, Padilla voiced her frustration with that delay at the Utah Capitol. She said the moratorium needs to be extended into the fall or even winter, as cases of the COVID-19 delta variant rise and cold weather approaches.
Carl Moore, the founder and chairperson of PANDOS (Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue and Organizing Support), said he came to the event because “there is a war on the homeless right now in SLC.” And if more people impacted by the pandemic through illness or loss of employment become homeless, “I don’t know where they’re going to go,” he said.
Padilla agreed, saying that housing gives people “a foundation to build their lives around.” When a person doesn’t have to worry about their immediate safety, they can work on getting employment and taking care of their family. But “housing absolutely has to come first.”
Bryn Spielvogel, who held a sign that read “Evictions are violence,” said she just finished graduate school. If she didn’t have a partner with a reliable income, she believes her housing situation would be unstable.
“Making sure that people have access to stable housing is really essential for making sure that several generations down the line, people are healthy and happy and have access to the kinds of things they need to work and live the life they want to live,” she said.
Approximately $150 million is still available to help Utah renters at risk of being evicted, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services. People who are having trouble paying their rent because of the pandemic and also have a household income at or below 80% of area median income are eligible to apply through September 2022. That assistance can cover past due rent, current rent, utilities and more. Call 211 or visit RentRelief.utah.gov to learn more and submit an application.
Correction: Aug. 3, 2:48 p.m. • A previous version included an incorrect name for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.