Under Coronavirus, Nature Becomes an Essential Service

Danny Leong knows how to find nature in unexpected places. A Ph.D. candidate studying entomology and urban ecology in Macau, he earned the moniker of “Macau Ant Man” in 2017, after discovering a new species of the insect in the most densely peopled region on earth.

That knack for hidden wildlife will be handy when Leong leads his hometown into the City Nature Challenge next month. For three days every April, the global event encourages regular people to look for wildlife in their communities and post observations onto the app iNaturalist, netting everything from daddy long-legs and dogwood trees to rare orchids and red-faced warblers. Species are then tallied up for each city. Since 2018, Leong has coordinated Macau schools, museums, and universities to get locals, especially children, hunting in nearby parks and gardens.

But this year will be different. As in cities around the world, the 650,000 residents of Macau are restricted from non-essential trips outside their homes, in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (So far, the Chinese territory has been strikingly successful in that fight.) In a tight, vertical city where windowsills and balconies are the closet thing most residents have to a yard, that means this year’s Nature Challenge will have to scale down to whatever can be found in an apartment — even if it’s a bug under the sink, or a houseplant basking in the sun.

“This is a good time for self-modification about how we can reach nature,” Leong said. “A cockroach is still part of the ecosystem, too.”

The City Nature Challenge is one of many ways that people around the world are shifting their relationship to the natural environment at a time when access to shared outdoor space has rarely been so fraught. In many countries, forests and recreational areas have closed to the public in keeping with quarantines. Out-of-neighborhood travel is discouraged or even banned, canceling plans for springtime camping trips or cabin visits. Though most shelter-at-home orders allow for outdoor exercise, questions still swirl about the safety of visiting public areas. In some cities, popular parks and beaches have shut their gates after large crowds proved dangerous for public health. A recent New York Times headline summed up “the new terror, and the intensifying debate, over going outside.”

But for some scientists, researchers, and stay-at-home civilians, the pandemic age may also be a chance to shift perceptions of what “nature” really means, and find new, hyper-local ways to appreciate it.

“If just a few people find some joy or solace from getting up close with a pollinator out the window or a weed in the sidewalk, and learning what it is and how it works, the City Nature Challenge is still going to be a success,” said Lila Higgins, the citizen science manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. (Disclosure: I used to work there.) Higgins and Alison Young, who works on citizen science at the California Academy of the Sciences in San Francisco, founded the event in 2016. Both plan to encourage participants in their cities to go outside if they can, but to practice safe social distancing while they’re at it. If they can’t, there’s always whatever is flying or growing outside the ∂rwindow.

The plan for continuing the Challenge came out of extensive deliberation. It became clear through talks with dozens of science educators around the world, including those quarantined in China, that while the focus would have to shift, it was important that the event still go on. “Now it’s really all about the healing power of nature,” Higgins said.

Indeed, at a time when the mental health effects of mass isolation and anxiety over a rising death toll is still unmeasured and unknown, experts say it’s more important than ever to get up close with nature in whatever way possible. Volumes of scientific research have proven that woods and wildlife offer myriad mental and physical health benefits to human beings. Vitamin D from the sunshine boosts immune systems and bone health. Immersion in greenery — also know as “forest bathing” — has been linked to reduced stress, healthier heart rates and blood pressure, and lower risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Interacting with the natural world, whether on a walk through some trees or gardening in the backyard, is shown to ease anxiety and depression and foster a sense of well-being. Watching birds and listening to bird song can help filter away stress. An after-dinner stroll can even help digestion.

And though the “great outdoors” may be more distant than ever right now, small and mediated exposure to nature can still give us a lift, said Jon Christensen, a professor of environmental studies at the University of California at Los Angeles. Even photos of tree-lined mountains and wildlife documentaries can yield a health payoff; so can sitting in a park for 20 minutes. “There does seem to be a dose-response curve,” he said.

Around the world, people stuck at home are now finding ways to connect with flora and fauna in more intimate settings. In U.S. cities, World War II-era “victory gardens” have made a comeback amid coronavirus, thanks to the meditative (and supermarket-avoidance) benefits of planting tomatoes and lettuce at home. A similar run on backyard chickens has been reported. Other nature seekers are getting their fix online. On Explore.org, a website that hosts streaming footage from cameras pointed at hundreds of natural habitats and landscapes around the globe, traffic from desktop computers has doubled since mid-March, and viewership from its iPhone app has grown threefold. (The Northern Lights, which are visible right now, are especially popular.)

The audience spike suggests that more younger people are tuning in while they’re cooped up at home, said Charles Annenberg Weingarten, the L.A. philanthropist who founded the site. “I anticipate that when this ends, people will go back out into the world and we might not be as popular,” he said. “But I hope they’ll appreciate their natural environment more.”

In many urban areas, street space is the most readily accessible outdoor resource. A growing handful of U.S. cities, including Portland, Philadelphia, and New York City, are limiting vehicle traffic on certain corridors to create more room for walking, cycling, and outdoor play. Eugenia South, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in the effects of community context on health and safety, is a proponent of street closures as an antidote to dangerous overcrowding in parks. Even the trees that line neighborhood blocks and thoroughfares can be good for mental health, she said. “You’re still getting outside and getting that dose of nature.”

Still, South said, limiting access to nature is one of many ways that coronavirus is heightening existing social disparities. Lower-income people are less likely to have yards, neighborhood parks within walking distance, or tree-lined streets to enjoy; that puts them at a deeper disadvantage in cities under lockdown.

South and others hope that the crisis can shake policymakers into doing more to bridge those gaps in green space, and into doing more to protect the fragile balance of their ecosystems in the future. Scientists find that a diversity of species in nature is essential for the health of the air, water and soil on which all of life depends. There’s even evidence that biodiversity — something that the planet is losing every day — can reduce the chances for the spread of infectious disease.

In that sense, nature may hold another lesson about surviving coronavirus, said Leong: Treat plants and animals with more respect. Using eyes, ears, nose or a camera to observe a living thing is a more peaceful interaction than catching or harming its habitat.

“We still don’t know the full connection between animals and plants and virus and us,” said Leong. “But we do know from ecology that if you break down one part of a system, it will collapse.”

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Why Not Just Stop Paying Rent?

Millions of Americans will struggle to pay their rent on April 1. Efforts to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic have delivered a hammer blow to the economy, and for the second straight week, the number of Americans filing for unemployment is likely to be staggering. Projections for new jobless claims for the last week of March run as high as 3.5 million, which would shatter the record set the week before. The New York Times estimates that 40% of renters in the hard-hit five boroughs of NYC won’t be writing rent checks this week.

Leaders are scrambling to contain the fallout for renters and homeowners. Congress and several federal agencies have introduced moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures for people living in homes backed by the government. Cities and state leaders have announced a number of measures to help keep people in their homes during the crisis, too. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio floated a proposal on Monday, for example, to let New Yorkers use their existing security deposits to pay their rent on April 1.

Yet tenants, advocates, and even some landlords would like to see the government go much further. On there left, many activists are mobilizing for a rent boycott, on the straightforward grounds that millions of people cannot work. It’s not just anti-capitalist organizers declaring a rent strike, either. ParentsTogether, a national parent-led group, is calling on Congress to suspend rent, mortgage, and utility payments for the duration.

“Families are drowning,” says Justin Ruben, co-director of ParentsTogether. “Millions have lost income and are already facing tradeoffs about whether to pay for rent, utilities, or purchase necessities like food and diapers.”

With the nation in dire straits — and with relief from Congress still distant on the horizon, and a reprieve from the virus nowhere in sight — why not just nix the rent altogether? For that matter, what about scuppering the mortgage, too, to help homeowners and make sure landlords aren’t ultimately responsible for bearing the cost of the pandemic?

According to the ParentsTogether’s surveys, half of American families are already sacrificing basic necessities in order to make their rent or mortgage payments. A temporary government reprieve from rent and mortgage payments (sometimes called a holiday or a jubilee) would certainly ease the weight of the pandemic on these households. Calls for a rent holiday follow another proposal to wipe the slates clean in order to keep people from falling into poverty as a result of the pandemic — a debt jubilee.  

But other experts warn that any sustained suspension of rent and mortgage payments would have grave consequences for the broader economy. The buck doesn’t stop with landlords.

”Those mortgages are often securitized,” says Carol Galante, faculty director for the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California-Berkeley. “They’re packaged up into bonds and they’re sold as investments, and those investors are expecting a certain interest payment off of those securities on an ongoing basis. If they don’t get those, then those investors suffer.”

Yeah, but this is a life-or-death, full-blown disaster situation — sorry, investors, but that’s capitalism, right?

“So you say, well, who cares about the investors?” Galante says. “But the fact is that many of those investors are things like pension funds.” And those pension funds support teachers, first responders, and others in ways that may not be wholly apparent every time tenants or homeowners write out their rent and mortgage checks.

Negative impacts of a pandemic pause on rents could play out for years to come. If the government were to declare a rent jubilee, it would discourage people from investing in mortgage-backed securities, since they might fear that they could lose their shirts in the event of another rent jubilee. (Yes, these are the same securitized mortgages that contributed to economic collapse in the last financial crisis.) Insurance companies and pension funds are some of the primary investors in mortgage bonds — entities that everyday people have an interest in keeping solvent, especially right now.

“Oftentimes policies look good on their face, but there are effects that stem throughout the whole society, and can even hurt the people who are benefiting in the short term by the jubilee,” says Kathleen Engel, a research professor at law at Suffolk University.

But let’s say that the longer-term repercussions of threatening the retirement security of millions of Americans are considered less dire than the immediate-term risk of mass homelessness during a pandemic. Even if Congress were willing to roll the dice and declare a rent jubilee — by passing an edict that we’re not doing rent or mortgage payments for the foreseeable future — it’s not clear how such an action would be legal. An edict on private loans would almost certainly be ruled an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment. So far, the federal government has put restrictions on evictions and foreclosures for only those homes that are backed by federal mortgages. Specifically, for rental properties secured by federally backed mortgages, the government has suspended evictions for at least 150 days (a 120-day moratorium period plus 30 days’ notice).

For renters, these actions only go so far. Between the CARES Act passed by Congress and interventions by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the government has delayed evictions and foreclosures for about 42% of single-family mortgages. Most of those are for homes occupied by the owners. There’s at least 2.3 million multi-family properties covered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and renters in those buildings would be covered by the eviction moratorium, too. That leaves a gap for tens of millions of renters living in properties out of reach of these federal protections.

“HUD doesn’t have the authority to stop private landlords from evicting their tenants,” says Jenny Schuetz, a fellow for the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. “HUD has limited authority over most of the rental market. It doesn’t have the tools to do this.”

Of course, it’s hard for renters to know whether their landlords have mortgages backed by the federal government. (Not impossible, though: The National Consumer Law Center has published guidelines for determining whether a loan is owned or insured by the federal government.) Most renters are going to find out that the federal rules don’t apply to them, although a state or local government moratorium might.

Even if a renter can’t be evicted thanks to new legal coronavirus protections, the rent is still very much due. While landlords may not be able to evict tenants who can’t pay the rent because they aren’t working — and indeed, landlords may not want to evict anyone for payment reasons for the time being, given how hard it might be to find another tenant — a reckoning is inevitable.

“A moratorium holds the clock,” says Marion McFadden, senior vice president of public policy at Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing development nonprofit. “If you don’t pay your money when it’s due now, there will be no consequences immediately. But the consequences will come. For most families, they’re not going to have an opportunity to make up their lost wages. There’s not going to be a moment when you can suddenly make more than you were earning before.”

Ultimately, a rent jubilee may not be the parachute that renters are hoping for. That doesn’t help anyone who hasn’t worked in the last three weeks actually write a rent check this week, or the next month, for however long the government is telling people not to go to work. While the nation might not ultimately sanction a rent holiday, we may have one on our hands anyway.

The looming rent apocalypse has already wreaked havoc in the mortgage bond market. Funds that own bonds backed by mortgages are selling billions in assets to raise cash to satisfy redemptions of investors selling their investments. Tom Barrack, a billionaire real estate investor (and close Trump ally), is raising alarms that the commercial mortgage market could collapse.

Now mortgage investors are calling for the government to rescue them. Corporate chains such as Subway and Mattress Firm have already let their landlords know that the rent will be reduced or delayed. This is all to say that the catastrophic domino effects that a rent strike could trigger appear to be happening already.

That’s why it’s so important for lawmakers to take action to put money into the hands of the parties in the best position to bail out landlords and bond investors — renters. If they find a way to pay the rent now, the other dominoes stay up a little longer. “The bottom 25 percent of the wage scale are going to be desperate,” Engel says. “A lot of those workers are working in service industries. They may be more likely to have lost their jobs, and maybe weren’t even making a living wage as it was. They’re going to have to come up with that money. They’re going to go over the cliff.”

She adds, “The response to that is to have more and better federally subsidized housing. But that’s a long-term problem that can’t be solved over the next four months.”

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Why Asian Countries Have Succeeded in Flattening the Curve

On March 25, Hong Kong closed its borders to non-residents to fend off a second wave of Covid-19 cases imported by foreign visitors. The territory has managed to contain the spread of the virus since its first case of coronavirus .

On March 27, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for Covid-19 and started self-isolating, telling the Brits to “stay home, protect the NHS [National Health Services] and save lives,” in a video he posted from his Twitter account.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron was still going to the theater a week before declaring the situation a national health emergency. The government also insisted the first round of the nationwide municipal elections take place, despite Macron having given a televised speech four days prior, saying that the country was facing “its worse health crisis in over a hundred years.”

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio went to the gym on March 16, after New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo recommended everyone stay home. One of de Blasio’s spokespeople said that “the mayor wanted to visit a place that keeps him grounded one last time,” according to Business Insider. On March 23, de Blasio demanded hundreds of ventilators and hundreds of thousands of masks on CNN, saying that New York City would otherwise run out of supplies within a week. He even asked individual citizens to send ventilators to the city, if they happened to have one.

Several states in the U.S. have ordered a lockdown, like New York City, or a stay at home order, like California. Most schools are now closed. In Europe, all countries but, Sweden and Germany have implemented nationwide lockdowns, even though some are looser than others. India, South Africa, Jordan, Kuwait and Argentina have as well.

In France, anyone who wants to go out has to have an ID and a “self-authorization,” a paper stating the reason for being outside. Valid reasons are grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, getting medical care, or daily physical exercise. Without a valid document, fines go up to 135 euros ($149) from 35 euros two weeks ago, and can be increased upon repetitive infringements. On the first full day of the lockdown, the police delivered 4,000 fines across France, according to France 24.

Most countries are setting the penalty higher, hoping this will persuade residents to stay home.

In Spain, people risk fines between 100 and 600,000 euros depending on “the severity of the infringement,” and jail time, too.

On March 25, Italy issued stricter legislation, and people testing positive for Covid-19 caught outside of their homes can face five years in prison. Fines can go up to 3,000 euros. During the first nine days of the lockdown, 40,000 fines were issued to people venturing outside without a valid reason.

At the local level, mayors have been tackling the issue in their own way: by yelling at those still outside to go home. In a video that went viral, Antonio Tutolo, the mayor of Lucera, Italy, declared “These [redacted] hairdressers who go from home to home to fix women’s hair, what the [redacted] are they for? What is the damn point? But do you understand that coffins are closed? Who will see all these beautiful hairstyles in the coffins?”

Sutan, the Burgundy School of Business professor, said that she believes the respect — or not — of quarantine and national lockdown orders lies in people’s relationship to authority. In China, amid an authoritarian regime, people had little choice but to comply with the massive lockdown measures imposed on regions like Hubei, where residents even have their temperature taken upon entering buildings or restaurants. Police wear smart helmets that are able to detect someone’s temperature from afar, and drones are used to make sure people stayed home.  

The question remains, of course, whether countries that have been using an arsenal of technologies to make people comply during the pandemic will stop using them once the situation stabilizes. In an article published in the Hong Kong Free Press on March 24, Shui-yin Sharon Yam, assistant professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies at the University of Kentucky, wrote that “safeguarding public health has historically been used as a justification for mainstream institutions and government authorities to stigmatize, monitor, and regulate the lives of marginalized people – such as immigrants, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and people living in poverty.”

In the meantime, technology and testing are proving useful in containing the outbreak. Flores, the French photographer living in Hong Kong, traveled to South Korea via London on assignment and tested positive for Covid-19. She’s asymptomatic but will spend 14 days isolated in a Seoul clinic.

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Alone Together, in Community Resilience

The clapping starts at 8 p.m. every evening. Across the world now, from São Paulo to Amsterdam, residents of cities confined to their homes by anti-coronavirus self-isolation measures are assembling on balconies, at windows and in doorways to applaud the emergency service providers helping Covid-19 sufferers. Darkened streets that have most of the day been vacant and silent — emptied out by social distancing and lockdowns — alight with the glow from open drapes and fill with the sound of neighbors united in a common sound, if from a distance.

The health workers receiving the ovation deserve the appreciation — but the nightly applause isn’t just for them. It’s also a way for residents shut indoors to remind themselves that, just outside their doors, there is a whole community of people in the same situation. Many of those neighbors are ready to help out if they can.

The way people band together in response to disasters is a key factor in a community’s ability to recover. As resilience guru Michael Berkowitz told CityLab recently in defining urban resilience: “It includes good infrastructure that promotes mobility and sustainable transportation. It’s also cohesive communities where neighbors check in on neighbors.”

Weaving this kind of community safety net becomes even more challenging when the disaster involves mandated isolation from one another. But already, even in a crisis which for many is still best measured in weeks rather than months, communities are using agility and creativity to adapt community initiatives to a touch-free world.

On a larger scale, these efforts take the form of organized volunteer networks and mutual-aid groups that are mobilizing neighbors to help each other out with simple tasks that social isolation has made difficult, such as picking up medications, walking dogs, or just calling for a chat. Zoom out and you can see impressive systems forming, such as France’s 40,000-member volunteer website En Premiere Ligne (“In the Line of Fire”) or the more than 1,500 local mutual aid groups that have sprung up across the U.K.

But social solidarity doesn’t just take place on a national scale. It’s the sum of countless gestures that keep communities up and running, many of them small and homespun.

“It started as a joke,” Copenhagener Eszter Igaz says via email of her 15-home apartment building’s toilet paper pool. “The news reported shoppers hoarding toilet paper, so my boyfriend put a few rolls (unused!) on top of the post boxes at our building entrance, with a message saying ‘for the needy that deserve it.’” The first response from neighbors, already locked down for more than 15 days, was approving laughter. Since then, she says, there’s been some real exchange going on, with people stocking up the communal pile of rolls when they have some to spare, while others take them if they don’t want to leave the building and are running low. The residents have now expanded the scope of the exchange, passing an Xbox from home to home after a good wipe-down with hand sanitizer.

This kind of sharing — as much about morale as assistance — is happening on a street-by-street level too. In Berlin, neighbors have turned local fences into sharing centers where people hang items such as clothes and food in front of their homes for other people who might need them. The fences have also been used as message boards for homeless people, communicating which open shelters are thoroughly cleaned daily and have enough space to practice social distancing.

Safety pins secure items left out for the needy in Berlin. (Sarah Syed/Bloomberg)

In Taos, New Mexico, community groups have adapted an existing idea for no-touch food-sharing. They are using small portable food pantries placed on people’s front yards or sidewalks to leave food that can be removed and refilled by anyone in the community. It’s a style reminiscent of the Little Free Libraries, which later also spawned the similar Little Free Pantries.

“This allows both giving and receiving without contact,” said Mark Goldman, the chair of the construction technology department at the University of New Mexico, Taos. The initial pantries were a collaboration between local organizations including Habitat for Humanity of Taos, Immigrant Allies, and Las Cumbres Community Services. Since social distancing began, Goldman got involved, adapting the boxes so they sit on more stable bases, supported by sandbags or other weights as in the blueprint below drawn by Goldman. He said the first box was emptied and then restocked again on the day it was set out.

(Mark Goldman)

“We are a poor working-class community with a hip, affluent ski area,” Goldman said. “This food pantry is a way to link all of us in this together as a community.”

In addition to supports from physical communities, there are countless online communities bound by shared identities. In New York City, choreographer Yin Yue has been using video to reach out to a group of people who might find being stuck at home especially challenging: dancers. Yue has launched a dance class project called Solo Together from her kitchen, intended for dancers trying to make things work in cramped apartment spaces. “It’s definitely in one spot, you allow yourself just two to three steps out of your center.” she says. “If you choose, say, your living room and move the coffee table if you have one, then you have enough space.”

Dancing together in our time of social distancing. . . In response to the continued spread of COVID-19, YYDC YY Dance Company wishes to stay connected with members of our global dance community who may be in isolation and practicing “social distancing” to combat the spread of the virus. Join me on YYDCINC instagram IGTV where I will choreograph and teach the movement for a solo dance that we can all learn together as a community. . Once we have completed the solo together, please feel free to record your performance and share on your social media and tag @yydcinc and @theyinyue, so we can see and share your work with our community. I hope this project will play a small part in fostering the connectedness and engagement that we all need at this time. #Solotogether

A post shared by YY Dance Company (@yydcinc) on

In Berlin, another online effort is aimed at the clubbing crowd. The city’s clubs have been shuttered for several weeks (and have since been pinpointed as hotspots for coronavirus’s spread), but a new online effort is maintaining a 48-hour live DJ marathon over the weekends. Called Club Quarantaene, the livestream simulates the Berlin club experience, down to waiting in line briefly to enter, and answering a doorman’s questions before being allowed in. Separated into four club-like spaces — the “toilet” is a place for users to hang out and chat — each space connects to donation links that help users provide financial support for organizations helping furloughed, income-less club workers, refugees and other groups in need.  

Although people are stuck in their homes during coronavirus, the lockdowns haven’t stopped politics. And people wanting to protest government actions are using new communitarian ways to express that frustration in a period when street demonstration are impossible.

When news came out in Spain this month that the country’s royal family was embroiled in yet another corruption scandal, it was the sort of news that would normally have brought people protesting into the streets. With the streets unsafe due to the risk of infection, people had to ask themselves: What happens to public life when the public space it takes place in is off-limits? Spaniards took collectively to their balconies for a cacerolada — a noisy protest where everybody bashes a saucepan in unison. One website even provided a downloadable saucepan-beating sound to play out the window, for those afraid of damaging their saucepans. This video comes from last Monday in the northwestern city of A Coruña.

While the demonstration may not have quite as positive a message as residents applauding emergency workers, the effort had a similar effect: Creating on city streets a distinctly unified sight — and sound — that would not have occurred if people weren’t stuck inside their homes.

With reporting from Marie Patino in London and Sarah Syed in Berlin.

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Send Us Your Questions About the Rent, Evictions, and Your Rights

While the coronavirus pandemic is making work impossible for millions of Americans, rent and mortgage payments are nevertheless due on April 1. The federal government has introduced some protections for renters and homeowners against eviction and foreclosure during the current crisis. States and cities have introduced other measures. Yet the new rules apply only to some people in some places. Figuring out our housing responsibilities right now can be a challenge.

Our reporters want to answer the questions many of you have on your housing situation in an upcoming FAQ. Please take a few minutes to fill out our survey below, which asks questions about rent and mortgage payments, leases, evictions, and foreclosures. By providing your email, we’ll be able to email you when our follow-up FAQ is published. Thank you for your help, and insight.

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Black Businesses Left Behind in Covid-19 Relief

Social distancing is not new to black communities. “Social distancing” in the form of anti-black segregation and discrimination was U.S. law throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This created racial wealth disparities that have lingered, negatively impacting black people’s capacity to start and maintain businesses. The remnants of federally backed redlining practices, which financially isolated black people throughout the 20th century, throttled the amount of wealth black people could create from homeownership. Most entrepreneurs start businesses with the equity they’ve accrued in their homes. Consequently, black people, who’ve been over-burdened by American economic policies, require a different kind of stimulus in this coronavirus scourge era.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (Cares) package is an attempt to offset an impending recession caused by mandated and voluntary social distancing, which will last until at least April 30. Congress should also pass a relief package for people who’ve suffered from the de jure and de facto social distancing of racial segregation, which still sets African Americans apart from white people today on both a spatial and economic basis.

Current financial assistance bills at the federal, state, and local levels don’t account for real wealth differences created by past anti-black policies. The bounce back from the recession will be uneven and partial, as past recoveries have been, in terms of continuing to bail out white families while ignoring the financial and social hole that “colorblind” policies have created for black families.

The Coronavirus relief package includes a $25 million earmark for the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, which also receives regular funding from taxpayers and private donations. While we love the Kennedy Center — we hear the recent Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance there was divine —  in D.C., where we both live, indigenous black art and cultural institutions are collapsing.

Go-Go was recently branded the official music of D.C., but that honor hasn’t come with financial support for the constellation of black businesses that support Go-Go culture. Meanwhile, there is a cohort of arts nonprofits in D.C. that receive funding from the District despite the fact they already bring in more than $1 million in income annually. Black barbershops and beauty salons —  institutions that allowed black communities to survive segregation and legal exclusion for decades — are struggling. Where’s their bailout?  

We support arts funding, especially in challenging times. But in an emergency, we need to make public dollars stretch as much as possible. If well-endowed institutions such as the Kennedy Center can get a bailout, then we believe that it is more than appropriate to create set-aside programs specifically for black institutions and businesses  that have survived a legacy of legal discrimination.

Privilege may blind some to the reality that we are all indeed connected, but government leaders should no longer bury their heads in the sand to the unique vulnerability of black-owned businesses and neighborhoods created by past economic crisis responses.  

Through the Cares Act, Congress allocated $350 billion to the Small Business Administration to issue loans of up to $10 million per business. In addition, the Cares Act provides $10 billion for emergency grants of up to $10,000 for small businesses to cover operating expenses. These loans become grants if the businesses keep employees on the payroll through June.

But we need to consider the structural issues that often prevent black businesses from participating in these stimulus efforts. Black people represented 12.7% of the U.S. population, but only 4.3% of the nation’s 22.2 million business owners in 2012, according to analysis derived from the latest Census Survey of Business Owners. Asian Americans accounted for 6.9% of business owners and 4.8% of the population, while Latino or Hispanic Americans accounted for 12% of business owners and 16.4% of the population. Meanwhile, only 1% of black business owners were able to obtain loans in their founding year, compared with 7% of white entrepreneurs, according to Brookings and Gallup research.

Despite the need, Congress allocated just $10 million to the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) out of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. The MBDA connects “minority-owned businesses with the capital, contracts, and markets they need to grow, but yet it received not even 1% of coronavirus relief assistance.

Our research on business devaluation found that minority-owned businesses (i.e. black people, Asian Americans, Latinos or Hispanics, and American Indians) in majority-black neighborhoods earn significantly higher ratings on the consumer rating app Yelp than white-owned peers in white neighborhoods yet they receive less revenue because of the negative perception of the black neighborhoods they are in.

That research is consistent with other findings around housing prices in majority-black neighborhoods. In 2017, houses in black neighborhoods were priced 23% lower than the same kind of houses in white neighborhoods, amounting to $156 billion in accumulative lost equity in black neighborhoods throughout the United States. These losses are heirlooms of past recovery policies, including much of the New Deal, that didn’t consider race or discrimination in their stimulus packages. Colorblind” approaches have proven to hurt black people and restrict national growth.

The “black tax” – the financial penalty that people pay for living and running businesses in majority-black neighborhoods — must be accounted for in any future spending packages for the novel coronavirus recovery. We need to inject emergency funds into the people and institutions that policymakers have historically excluded from financial assistance the most, but yet are essential to the survival of black communities.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that we have a moral imperative to distribute resources based on racial equity. When the most vulnerable communities are healthy, then all communities are better off. The novel coronavirus is showing how interconnected we all are, as the contagion is infecting people across race, class, sex, gender, and age. Privilege may blind some to the reality that we are all indeed connected, but government leaders should no longer bury their heads in the sand to the unique vulnerability of black-owned businesses and neighborhoods created by past economic crisis responses.  

Any legislator that really wants to see the country recover from this current pandemic, must approach recovery using a racial equity framework. Political leaders must address the failures of the past that still extract wealth from black people and their assets, making them more vulnerable to inevitable shocks to the market, such as hurricanes, housing bubbles, and pandemics like the one we’re in now. If we really want a solid recovery in the short and long term, spending bills must address the needs that still exist. If we are all in this together, then we must all address the anti-black legislation that kept black people in a state of emergency before the emergence of Covid-19.

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How to Head Off a Coronavirus Housing Crisis

Debates about the U.S. housing crisis feel like they happened years ago; the housing plans of the Democratic presidential candidates are now artifacts from another era. The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically upended the status of millions of Americans, who may not have a plan for paying the rent in April or going forward. But those campaign schemes, full of what were once thought experiments about boosting aid for struggling households, could be roadmaps that help current leaders find the way out of this new catastrophe.

Some of those campaign ideas came from Julián Castro, whose safety net–focused presidential bid ended in January. Castro, the ex-secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama and former mayor of San Antonio, proposed a number of ideas to improve the security for America’s most vulnerable households. Most notably, he suggested expanding the Housing Choice Voucher program, which provides rental aid to low-income households, as a fully funded federal entitlement for every eligible adult in America.

The vouchers program (better known as Section 8) is now under tremendous strain, even as the pandemic compounds the housing crunch for low-income renters. HUD and other federal agencies are taking steps to provide relief to renters and homeowners, but other tools at the federal government’s disposal, including the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, are still pending a major disaster declaration from the White House and coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

CityLab spoke with Castro about what to do to make sure that the most vulnerable families are able to keep their homes as the U.S. tries to weather the pandemic by sheltering in place.

As you’ve seen in Texas and around the country, the pandemic has had an incredible, devastating impact on the service industry and other sectors. This is making people very fearful about how they’re going to survive, and how they’re going to pay the rent. How do you see this pandemic response shaping a housing dynamic that was already an affordability crisis?

What’s been revealed here in a very poignant and powerful way are the gaps that exist for so many Americans out there. How close so many people are to falling into poverty, and for those who are in poverty, how vulnerable they are to a shift in their circumstances like this. One of the things we proposed was to make the Housing Choice Voucher program an entitlement program. We also called for, and I know [New Jersey Senator Cory Booker] and [California Senator Kamala Harris] called for, a refundable renters’ tax credit as well. That could be distributed on a monthly basis for renters, so that it could help them as the rents go up in communities across the country — or in situations like this, where you have unforeseen circumstances that are stressful for the tenant and the landlord.

I was pleased to see what HUD did the other day in terms of its announcement on evictions and so forth, but they’re going to end up having to go further than that. In the long term, we’re going to need to invest in a Housing Choice Voucher system that is much more robust. We need to invest in more public housing. We scaled back our commitment from public housing many years ago. I thought before this, and I said this when I was HUD secretary, that we need to be moving in the opposite direction. Having a strong, widespread supply of well-placed public housing not only allows for more stability every day in American communities, but also better response in moments like this.

What are some of the ways HUD could go further to meet this crisis?

It’s going to need to go further in terms of the timeline. It’s clear that the time horizon we’re looking at will be longer than [through the end of April]. Schools are looking at being closed longer than that. We’re seeing unemployment claims skyrocket. I don’t think this challenge is going to be done by the end of April. I also think they need to do everything they can to provide more direct relief to renters. And also to landlords participating in the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Frankly, there are advantages, but there are weaknesses to relying on the private sector to provide what is essentially subsidized housing. You’re going to get a lot of these landlords who, when that tenant may not be able to produce the other part of the rent, they’re going to look at evicting them. Now, when HUD comes down on them, you can’t evict them, you’re going to see a lot of people saying, “Well then, you know what, I’m out of the program.” That’s a weakness of the program. They’re going to need to figure out a way both to support those renters and also keep the number of landlords participating in the program as high as they possibly can. There’s going to be stress on both parts.

I also believe that HUD needs to work to make sure that residents, particularly in Section 202 and Section 811 housing, are as safe as possible. [Section 202 provides supportive low-income housing for the elderly; Section 811 serves people with disabilities.] You have a tremendous number of vulnerable communities out there — residents who are older, residents who are disabled — in public housing complexes. I haven’t seen a comprehensive plan on how they’re dealing with that. We have something like 3,300 housing authorities across the United States. I don’t believe that we can leave it up to 3,300 housing authorities to make sure these residents are as safe as possible. We need a strong federal government response directing that.

Could you briefly describe the dynamic with Housing Choice Vouchers? What happens to voucher holders when their income falls?

The Housing Choice Voucher program includes a requirement that the voucher holder pay a certain amount of their income in rent. They’re a participant in paying the rent. The question is, what will happen when they don’t have that income to pay along with their voucher? [HUD] can restrict evictions, whether in public housing or in Housing Choice Voucher housing, but you’re going to get a lot of landlords eventually resisting that and seeking to evict tenants who don’t have the full amount of rent. That’s a problem.

So what the federal government is going to need to do is robustly address and help everyday Americans who are tenants — but also find a way to buck up the landlords, so they don’t flee the program, either immediately or on June 1 or on July 15. Let’s say that we get past this crisis. What you may have are a lot of landlords who say, “You know what, I’m not going to go through that again. I’m out of the program.” There’s a danger there, not only during this crisis, but over the next year or so, of landlords leaving the program.

Somebody might argue that for landlords, it actually is better because the federal government right now, in what could become a shaky housing market, is actually the most reliable renter, so to speak. Part of that is true. But that’s not the entire story.

So in order to just maintain the status quo for current voucher holders, to say nothing of the millions of people who are eligible for vouchers but don’t receive them, the federal government is going to have to boost the value of vouchers?

They’re going to have to ensure that renters are taken care of in terms of being able to fully pay the rent. Of course that voucher amount that is already paid to landlords is an important component of that. The ability of those renters to pay their portion is also an important part. You could control that with a rule on no evictions, for a while. But what happens when a landlord says, “Well, then I don’t want to participate in the program?” What HUD needs to do is address the short-term and the long-term consequences of this tremendous uncertainty.

In order to make landlords whole, to make renters able to pay their rent — what’s the best way for the federal government to do this? Is it sending checks? Could the vouchers themselves be expanded to help struggling renters?

They have it within their power [at HUD] to address these issues. What it takes is the resources and a strong coordinated administrative effort. In some ways, the Housing Choice Voucher program is a very easy program to address this kind of emergency situation. You already have the administrative relationship with those landlords. You already have the administrative relationship with those tenants. What the system is going to require is more investment during this crisis, and then also a management of those relationships between landlords and tenants after the crisis, so you don’t have a bunch of landlords exiting the program. I absolutely believe that, in terms of managing the status quo, it’s utilizing the existing administrative relationships and putting more resources into them.

And then, for the future, as soon as the federal government can, they should do something like an entitlement program based off the Housing Choice Voucher program as well as use our tax code for a refundable renters’ tax credit. That would help people who are not in the system, everyday renters, who have a hard time as rents skyrocket across the country.

Do you think those approaches — expanding housing vouchers and launching a monthly renters tax credit — could be easier or more effective than introducing a basic income? The proposal for direct cash payments might miss households who are extremely low income and don’t file federal income taxes, for example.

It’s going to take a combination of those things. They’re not mutually exclusive. This is absolutely unprecedented in America’s history. We’ve certainly had times of crisis. And sacrifice. World War II comes to mind. We’ve had natural disasters and other types of emergencies. But I don’t believe we’ve seen something this widespread that’s going to have potentially the health impact and certainly the economic impact that coronavirus is going to have. It requires creativity. It requires going beyond the bounds of what we normally do.

This idea goes beyond the bounds of what we normally do: A lot of people ask, why can’t we just suspend rent? And suspend mortgage payments, too? A rent jubilee or holiday, when those payments aren’t due — is that a good idea?

Of course it may become necessary during an absolute crisis as this thing develops. We’re in uncharted waters right now. Would I keep that on the table? Yeah. We have to address that just as we make sure that everyone has a safe decent place to live. The government has to step in and make sure that’s possible. Is it possible to halt all mortgages, all evictions? I believe that’s possible, but it would require a tremendous amount of backing and investment by the federal government, too.

What concerns me is that for the last 40 years, more or less, this notion that smaller government is better has progressed in our society. We’re seeing some real concrete downsides of that during this crisis.

What next steps do you hope to see from government at the local, state, and federal level?

Locally, it’s about making sure that the basic needs of people are being met. For instance, for public utilities, putting a moratorium on disconnections. Making sure the housing authority at the local level is doing its part to stop eviction. It’s all about the basic needs. They are the frontline providers for so many basic needs. I told the mayor in San Antonio the other day, I think you should get together the public utilities and have a press conference and address what each is doing to take care of people at this time.

As you go up to the state level, then you get to a more global response. I think a lot of things they’re doing in California will work for other states. States have a greater role on issues like affordable housing, paid sick leave, and small business grants.

On the federal level, I completely disagree with Trump and this statement he made, that the federal government is “not a shipping clerk.” The federal government has the greatest resources and the ability to marshal expertise from around the world and deploy those ideas to generate economic stimulus and deliver health resources. We need a sober and methodical approach that’s lacking.

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The Last Daycares Standing

Less than a week after New York shuttered the largest school district in the nation, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that all non-essential businesses must close, too. Among the exceptions to his edict were child-care programs, which he dubbed essential, along with grocers and doctor’s offices.  

That doesn’t mean most child-care programs are open now. Even before Cuomo’s order went into effect, many child-care centers had already shut down. But among those that made the difficult decision to remain open were many of the smallest in-home care programs, often called family daycares. “We look around and everyone else is closing. We’re the last people standing,” says Gladys Jones, owner of Ga Ga Group Family Daycare in Staten Island and founder of Early Childhood Educators (ECE) On the Move, a loose network of about 500 New York City home-based providers.                               

Jones and other child-care providers expected that with schools and so many other centers closed, the demand for their services would be higher than ever. Instead, their programs have been eerily empty — a phenomenon happening across the U.S.

Despite a swelling share of parents who must continue working but suddenly have no support, many child-care programs have found themselves severely under-enrolled and some have begun closing as a result. Data from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and Early Care & Education Consortium suggests that programs around the country lost nearly 70% of their daily attendance in one week during the pandemic, with many saying they could not last a week without getting paid. Providers are reporting on social media that families are keeping their kids home because parents are losing jobs, working from home, or simply out of fear.

“I thought my phone would be ringing off the hook, and it’s super quiet,” said Milagros Carbajal who runs M&M 24 Hour Daycare in the Bronx.

This low enrollment is leaving daycares in a precarious position: Should they continue operating during the pandemic as many governments have encouraged them to do, with very little safety guidance and at a risk to themselves and their employees? And will they survive the other end of this crisis at all?

“I closed my daycare because the families are all self isolating,” tweeted Helen Marvelene Fagg, who runs a small family daycare for seven children in Athens, Tennessee. “Some families quit due to the coronavirus. I’m trying to suspend my accounts for a few months. This is crazy!”

The circumstance is particularly precarious for family daycares, many of them staples in poor and working-class neighborhoods where home-based child care is sometimes the only form of licensed care around. Their small size and flexibility about hours makes these programs particularly well-positioned to help with this crisis, says Jones. Many already care for the children of first responders and essential service workers such as hospital staff, janitors, and grocers. Several offer night care.

But they are also particularly vulnerable to permanent closure, with many operating on shoestring budgets, paying themselves and their teachers near-poverty level wages, and staying open as much out of financial necessity as out of a desire to help. “If we don’t offer our services, we don’t get paid,” says Bernadette Lombay of B-Happy Daycare in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx. (Other child care centers, meanwhile, have continued to charge families even during the period they are closed.)

Privately, providers vent about operating under crisis circumstances with little clarity or direction. The ECE On the Move listserv has been bursting with questions: Will the state pay them for enrolled children receiving subsidized care who stay home? Normally they are paid only for days that children attend their programs. With local stores ransacked, how will programs stay stocked with essentials like milk, bleach, and baby wipes? How do you get toddlers to stop putting things in their mouth and babies to stop sneezing on you? If you don’t have health insurance or sick leave — as many child-care workers do not — who will be there for you and your families if you fall ill?

“These women are scared,” says Jones. “I know of a provider in Far Rockaway who is 83. We can’t just use these people and throw them away.”

Advocates and leaders in the child-care industry are calling on the federal government to provide emergency assistance to child-care programs, warning that without that boost, much of the sector may be permanently shuttered. One recent proposal called for infusing the sector with $50 billion in emergency stimulus funding. The federal economic stimulus bill passed this week did provide some financial relief for the child-care industry, including $3.5 billion in grant funding for emergency workers’ care, but advocacy groups say far more is needed in the next stimulus just to serve current emergency needs, let alone prevent permanent closures.

For now, most decisions about how best to help these programs and the families who need them are left to state and local leaders — and providers themselves.

Several states and institutions are experimenting with how to narrow the enrollment gap by connecting child-care centers with workers who need them most. In Washington, D.C., Children’s National Hospital is creating its own database for connecting its workers to available in-home child care centers. In New York, in an effort to bump their enrollment, over 100 members of Jones’s group, ECE on the Move, have responded to requests from the city and a union serving health-care works to let them know they have plenty of room to take in the children of first responders.  

In drawing up guidelines for these still-running businesses, state and city government officials grapple to balance the urgent needs of first responders needing child care with efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Local responses have been as varied as the states themselves, ranging from a handful of states demanding that all child-care programs close, to an Oklahoma official telling providers “it is critical that you do all you can to remain open.”

Most states fall somewhere in between, says Dan Wuori, director of early learning at the The Hunt Institute in North Carolina, which on Tuesday launched a website tracking state directives and policies regarding early education and the pandemic in the hopes that government officials and policymakers can learn from each other and identify best practices.   

Ohio and Illinois, for example, are requiring that child-care programs remaining open during the pandemic apply for a special license.

Like New York, many other states have identified child-care programs as “essential” businesses that may keep running even as other businesses are ordered to close, and some urge prioritizing the families of first responders. So far only one state — Virginia — has suggested in a letter to the provider community that child-care providers themselves are first responders. Others are aiming to soften the financial blow by providing benefits that many child-care workers don’t typically have, such as paid sick leave, free treatment for uninsured workers who test positive for the coronavirus, or by paying subsidies. Vermont said it will cover lost tuition that child-care centers would have received if they hadn’t closed.

Wuori says it’s become a common practice for states to ease requirements for child-care programs still operating, allowing families receiving subsidy who are enrolled part-day to switch to full-day, or loosening licensing regulations.

One question up for vigorous debate is how many children a program can safely take in during the pandemic. In New York, child-care programs may apply for waivers allowing them to serve more children than their licenses specify. Meanwhile, several other states are looking to curb — not expand — group sizes in child care in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

While there is not data available regarding characteristics of child-care programs that have chosen to remain open these past few weeks, early education experts say that because of their small size and flexibility, family child-care programs are particularly well suited for this moment of social distancing. But their size is also one of a number of factors that has made family centers so vulnerable to closure even before the pandemic.

A toxic combination of increased housing costs, increased minimum wage, competition from new, free preschool programs in schools and centers, and stagnant reimbursement rates have caused many of these programs that are staples in poor and working-class neighborhoods to shutter. Nationwide, nearly half of small home-based child care businesses have closed since 2005 with few government attempts at course correction.

If nothing else, this pandemic is putting front and center the needs of this often-overlooked workforce. Some family child-care providers see in the crisis an opportunity to show officials and policymakers how this sector is the backbone of many communities; how women who open their homes to neighborhood children for poverty-level wages are there for families when it matters most; that cities simply cannot afford to lose them.

“This crisis is a prime example of why we’re still needed,” says Carbajal who runs the 24-hour-daycare in the Bronx.   

Jones of ECE On the Move is encouraged that over the past two weeks she and her peers have huddled on conference calls with top city and state officials. Last week, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer asked ECE on the Move to provide a list for what New York family child care will need to operate effectively during the pandemic. What the group created — a collection of many provisions that states have passed individually, but not as a comprehensive package — could be the blueprint cities need. Among ECE on the Move’s asks: that providers be recognized as emergency responders; that those remaining open receive incentive pay and emergency supplies such as food, cleaning supplies and protective gear; that those who close have access to paid sick leave; that providers and their families who fall sick be guaranteed medical care; and that all family child care be paid for children receiving subsidized child-care, even when parents have since decided to keep them home.

“If we’re going to be the only people out there able to help people go to work, we need support,” says Jones.

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Black Businesses Are Not Getting the Coronavirus Relief They Deserve

Social distancing is not new to black communities. “Social distancing” in the form of anti-black segregation and discrimination was U.S. law throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This created racial wealth disparities that have lingered, negatively impacting black people’s capacity to start and maintain businesses. The remnants of federally backed redlining practices, which financially isolated black people throughout the 20th century, throttled the amount of wealth black people could create from homeownership. Most entrepreneurs start businesses with the equity they’ve accrued in their homes. Consequently, black people, who’ve been over-burdened by American economic policies, require a different kind of stimulus in this coronavirus scourge era.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (Cares) package is an attempt to offset an impending recession caused by mandated and voluntary social distancing, which will last until at least April 30. Congress should also pass a relief package for people who’ve suffered from the de jure and de facto social distancing of racial segregation, which still sets African Americans apart from white people today on both a spatial and economic basis.

Current financial assistance bills at the federal, state, and local levels don’t account for real wealth differences created by past anti-black policies. The bounce back from the recession will be uneven and partial, as past recoveries have been, in terms of continuing to bail out white families while ignoring the financial and social hole that “colorblind” policies have created for black families.

The Coronavirus relief package includes a $25 million earmark for the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, which also receives regular funding from taxpayers and private donations. While we love the Kennedy Center — we hear the recent Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance there was divine —  in D.C., where we both live, indigenous black art and cultural institutions are collapsing.

Go-Go was recently branded the official music of D.C., but that honor hasn’t come with financial support for the constellation of black businesses that support Go-Go culture. Meanwhile, there is a cohort of arts nonprofits in D.C. that receive funding from the District despite the fact they already bring in more than $1 million in income annually. Black barbershops and beauty salons —  institutions that allowed black communities to survive segregation and legal exclusion for decades — are struggling. Where’s their bailout?  

We support arts funding, especially in challenging times. But in an emergency, we need to make public dollars stretch as much as possible. If well-endowed institutions such as the Kennedy Center can get a bailout, then we believe that it is more than appropriate to create set-aside programs specifically for black institutions and businesses  that have survived a legacy of legal discrimination.

Privilege may blind some to the reality that we are all indeed connected, but government leaders should no longer bury their heads in the sand to the unique vulnerability of black-owned businesses and neighborhoods created by past economic crisis responses.  

Through the Cares Act, Congress allocated $350 billion to the Small Business Administration to issue loans of up to $10 million per business. In addition, the Cares Act provides $10 billion for emergency grants of up to $10,000 for small businesses to cover operating expenses. These loans become grants if the businesses keep employees on the payroll through June.

But we need to consider the structural issues that often prevent black businesses from participating in these stimulus efforts. Black people represented 12.7% of the U.S. population, but only 4.3% of the nation’s 22.2 million business owners in 2012, according to analysis derived from the latest Census Survey of Business Owners. Asian Americans accounted for 6.9% of business owners and 4.8% of the population, while Latino or Hispanic Americans accounted for 12% of business owners and 16.4% of the population. Meanwhile, only 1% of black business owners were able to obtain loans in their founding year, compared with 7% of white entrepreneurs, according to Brookings and Gallup research.

Despite the need, Congress allocated just $10 million to the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) out of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. The MBDA connects “minority-owned businesses with the capital, contracts, and markets they need to grow, but yet it received not even 1% of coronavirus relief assistance.

Our research on business devaluation found that minority-owned businesses (i.e. black people, Asian Americans, Latinos or Hispanics, and American Indians) in majority-black neighborhoods earn significantly higher ratings on the consumer rating app Yelp than white-owned peers in white neighborhoods yet they receive less revenue because of the negative perception of the black neighborhoods they are in.

That research is consistent with other findings around housing prices in majority-black neighborhoods. In 2017, houses in black neighborhoods were priced 23% lower than the same kind of houses in white neighborhoods, amounting to $156 billion in accumulative lost equity in black neighborhoods throughout the United States. These losses are heirlooms of past recovery policies, including much of the New Deal, that didn’t consider race or discrimination in their stimulus packages. Colorblind” approaches have proven to hurt black people and restrict national growth.

The “black tax” – the financial penalty that people pay for living and running businesses in majority-black neighborhoods — must be accounted for in any future spending packages for the novel coronavirus recovery. We need to inject emergency funds into the people and institutions that policymakers have historically excluded from financial assistance the most, but yet are essential to the survival of black communities.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that we have a moral imperative to distribute resources based on racial equity. When the most vulnerable communities are healthy, then all communities are better off. The novel coronavirus is showing how interconnected we all are, as the contagion is infecting people across race, class, sex, gender, and age. Privilege may blind some to the reality that we are all indeed connected, but government leaders should no longer bury their heads in the sand to the unique vulnerability of black-owned businesses and neighborhoods created by past economic crisis responses.  

Any legislator that really wants to see the country recover from this current pandemic, must approach recovery using a racial equity framework. Political leaders must address the failures of the past that still extract wealth from black people and their assets, making them more vulnerable to inevitable shocks to the market, such as hurricanes, housing bubbles, and pandemics like the one we’re in now. If we really want a solid recovery in the short and long term, spending bills must address the needs that still exist. If we are all in this together, then we must all address the anti-black legislation that kept black people in a state of emergency before the emergence of Covid-19.

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