Evictions and Poverty

By Robert Scott

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.

With the COVID-19 infection rate rising once again, it is wrong to say that the pandemic is now behind us and that it is time to return to life as normal here in Edgefield County. But there is one sense that we should return to life as it was when the pandemicfirst hit us all in March of last year: the acknowledgement that our government, especially at the state and national levels, needs to be deeply involved in helping those hit hardest by the disease. There is a very easy-to-understand website that sheds light on where we stand, locally and nationally, in these matters: evictionlab.org. That website helps to highlight two areas that reflect how our communities and our neighbors are doing: the poverty rate and the eviction rate.

As a bit of political background, during the initial months of COVID-19 last year, the federal government passed bipartisan legislation including an eviction moratorium. If you were a renter. It was assumed your livelihood was affected by the pandemic, andyour landlord was prohibited from evicting you. That moratorium expired last week: on Saturday, July 31, 2021. Based on the resurgence of the virus this summer, there were efforts to extend the moratorium at both the federal and the state level; both failed of passage, so that once again evictions – removal of families from their homes due to their falling behind on rent payments – have begun to return. How big an issue is that, locally? Knowing that most people don’t like statistics as much as I do, I’ll keep the statistics down to a minimum. As a note, these figures are not for this year but rather for the most recent year that the full statistics are known: 2016, well before the pandemic hit.

Nationally, the poverty rate – for a family of four, those falling below a family income of $24,500 in the year 2016 – was 12.7 percent. Here in South Carolina, the rate was higher: 15.3 percent, about one-fourth higher than the national average. Edgefield County was slightly better off than the state as a whole, with 13.4 percent living in poverty. This compares to neighboring Aiken and Saluda Counties, whose poverty rates were 13.8 and 17.1 percent respectively. How about evictions? The national rate was 16.5 percent in 2016, or 16 evictions for every 100 renting families. The rates for Edgefield, Aiken, and Saluda Counties were 5.0, 9.3, and 7.5 percent – so, probably because we are so rural, we were better off there than the country as a whole. Those are all pre-pandemic figures, and now – with the “delta variant” still raging – the evictions can start again. In our county, we can expect at least fiverenting families out of each one hundred to be evicted from their homes, even with the unrealistic assumption that there has been no increase in those falling behind in their rent.

It has been widely reported that the economic decline during the pandemic increased the gap between those in poverty (who are now worse off) and those not in poverty (now better off). One bit of recovery news from last week is that the national poverty rate is no longer 12.7 percent as it was in 2016; it is now projected to drop to only 7.7 percent in 2021. How our local figures will come out we don’t yet know. Meanwhile, the question of the week is this. What can we do, here in Edgefield County, to help those neighbors who face eviction for the first time since COVID-19 hit our county last year?