Associate professor of law Courtney Anderson’s research centers around health equity for the lower-class and people of color, an area where many health issues were exacerbated because of the pandemic.
As part of the COVID-19 Policy Playbook, Anderson published the chapter titled, A Pandemic Meets a Housing Crisis in which she assesses the laws, policies and reforms put in place due to COVID-19 regarding housing. Anderson looks at what was done at a federal, state and local level and what could be done differently.
She discusses how legal constraints were suspended when middle and upper-class people found themselves struggling with housing or utility payments, though the low-income population has been dealing with these burdens for much longer.
“It follows that the grace and concern extended during the pandemic still reflects bias against socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and empathy towards higher-income people,” she said.
Anderson argues the policies put in place are not fixing the problem long-term, but rather just delaying the issue. For instance, once the eviction moratorium is lifted, people will likely find themselves unable to pay months of back rent.
“The more people you have evicted, the more people you're exposing to COVID-19 because you're putting them at higher risk of being homeless, and not being able to take sanitary measures and social distance,” she said.
Also in 2020, Anderson published Opioids Are The New Black. She dissects the difference between the crack epidemic in the 1980’s versus the opioid epidemic which has been a national emergency in the US for several years.
She found that the opioid epidemic gets told by narratives focusing on the human element with a lot of support to treat substance abuse, while stories from the crack epidemic were focused on more punitive measures and the criminal element.
“There were a lot of underlying racially driven narratives among crack cocaine focusing on individual responsibility and taking advantage of this system,” Anderson said. “Versus with the opioid epidemic, being a victim of the system or corporate interest, which is much more widespread among different demographics.”
While the opioid crisis and COVID-19 pandemic don’t have a direct correlation, these two areas of research by Anderson do have an underlying theme; that change only appears to happen when a wider and higher class of individuals is affected. Moving forward, Anderson says we need to address the structural issues that discriminate against lower-class and predominantly people of color for both drugs and housing.
“These issues become magnified and supported more when it goes from not just issues experienced by extremely low-income individuals or people without a job, or facing homelessness,” Anderson said. “Now it's middle class, upper middle-class people who are losing their jobs or getting laid off. Now, there's kind of a different spin on how the stories being told him, therefore, the policy shift to become more empathetic.”
Written by Mara Thompson