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When I unexpectedly found myself pregnant in early 2010, I was 31 and long accustomed to being denied medical care not deemed “routine” enough for coverage. Anything they could even loosely tie to a uterus seemed disproportionately non-routine, in my experience. So no matter what I decided to do about this pregnancy, I was certain I’d get screwed again—this time, financially.
As someone who is low-income and chronically ill, every crisis with a price tag over the past 20 years has put me at risk of failing to pay rent, thus facing eviction. My abortion was no different.
I was lucky to have a clinic providing abortion care within a block of my ex’s studio, a personal physician I trusted to consult, and understanding coworkers—which kept my costs down to just under $1,500 for the procedure and the unpaid time off work. I managed to pay the credit cards off in just over a year, but any four-digit expense will continue to spike my blood pressure as long as stable housing remains a dream.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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As it has with other humanitarian crises in this country, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the reality of housing in the United States: We are far short of safe, stable places for our neighbors to shelter. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) estimates that 3.5 million people are experiencing homelessness in this country. Each of those people has their own stories and circumstances, but the NLCHP is unequivocal: Homelessness is caused by the absence of affordable homes.
The number one cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing. The number of renters with extremely low incomes far surpasses the number of available affordable rental units. A 2012 study found only 5.8 million rental units affordable to the more than 10 million households that identify as extremely low income.
A full 12 million renters and homeowners, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, flush more than 50 percent of their income down the drain on this single recurring necessity. I’ve been among this group since 2002, though I’m aware that my cisgender, white privilege mean my experience hardly constitutes a universal one.
But I know the fear that comes from living with housing instability. While obviously not everyone describes it the same way, a sense of insecurity is pervasive. How else to describe living in circumstances where anything out of the ordinary happening can lead to a choice between Current Urgent Need and housing?
I would have shrugged off the question in 2010, when I could still mostly stay on the hamster wheel. Back then, I hopped from crisis to crisis and didn’t usually have time to consider consequences or feel much of anything. Mentally, I had a hierarchy based on “irreversibility”—housing over food, food over prescriptions, transportation over everything so I didn’t lose any of my jobs. Because my $200 per month, out-of-pocket Blue Shield of Illinois plan was legally allowed to deny me contraception in 2009 and 2010 (a dangerous reality the current administration and Supreme Court are dragging us back into), I got pregnant choosing food over prescriptions one month.
More and more people who would be able to weather your standard emergency or “rough patch” are finding themselves feeling the fear. Mass evictions are imminent. The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project estimates as many as 23 million renters could be evicted from their homes by the end of September, creating a housing crisis that will eclipse the 2008 crisis.
Some of us have yet to recover from the 2008 recession. And now another crisis looms.
Even in the corners of the country where moratoria have been placed on evictions or courts have refused to administer eviction proceedings, few outside of street protests are seriously talking about rent forgiveness. Most renters—frozen and waiting for jobs to resume (if they still exist)—are sitting and watching back rent pile up, along with all the other expenses unemployment isn’t enough to cover.
That’s hardly a state in which it’s possible to plan the best life for you and your family.