Homelessness is a national crisis in the United States. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that the nation will face a crisis of evictions and foreclosures, similar to what was seen as a result of the 2008 financial collapse. This, in turn, will lead to an increase in homelessness, which disproportionately impacts communities of color. While moratoria on evictions and foreclosures are good and necessary, they cannot go on indefinitely, and they cannot solve the underlying crisis, which may result in tens of millions of people facing homelessness.
This Article addresses the ongoing epidemic of homelessness in the United States, with a particular focus on the country’s two largest cities: Los Angeles and New York City. Special attention is paid to the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic will likely impact the homelessness crisis. The Article also demonstrates how filing for bankruptcy protection can be beneficial to tenants and homeowners who are facing eviction or foreclosure.
While there are many causes for the epidemic of homelessness and various potential solutions, the bankruptcy process has been underutilized as a tool for preventing homelessness. This Article addresses the ways in which bankruptcy can be better employed in this regard. Specifically, the Article addresses how bankruptcy can be used to stop an eviction or foreclosure and how the procedures available under the Bankruptcy Code can help distressed debtors discharge certain debts, restructure other debts, and obtain a “fresh start” in order to better afford their housing costs going forward.
In addition, the Article suggests ways in which the Bankruptcy Code may be amended to better serve as a tool for preventing homelessness in cases of eviction and foreclosure, as well as other potential solutions to the homelessness crisis, outside of bankruptcy. The Article concludes with reflections on the moral bankruptcy of a public policy that fails to adequately address extreme poverty, suffering, and homelessness in society.
Geoffrey K. McDonald is an Assistant Professor of Law at UMass Law School. Before joining academia, Prof. McDonald practiced law in New York City for fifteen years, including both private practice and public interest work. He represented creditors, debtors, trustees, and other significant parties in interest in some of the country’s largest and most complex Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases. Immediately prior to joining academia, he worked as a public interest attorney in the South Bronx, where his practice was focused on homelessness prevention by providing free legal services to people facing eviction or foreclosure. He also worked extensively in the consumer bankruptcy context. Professor McDonald received his B.A. in Philosophy from Wesleyan University, his M.A.R. in Philosophy of Religion from Yale University, where he also studied jurisprudence and legal philosophy at Yale Law School, his Ph.D. in Religion (Ethics & Society) and J.D. from Emory University, and his LL.M. in Bankruptcy from St. John’s University School of Law.