Summit County’s Latino population faces financial and health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic
Many Summit County residents might be marking May 16 on their calendars, the day after Gov. Gary Herbert’s moratorium on evictions is set to expire and, for some, the day that thousands of dollars in rent bills might jeopardize the roof over their heads.
The governor’s April 1 order forbade landlords from evicting tenants for a time, but it did not forgive rent payments. And some people among the county’s most vulnerable populations who rely on service-industry work to pay their bills, and who haven’t seen a paycheck since March, might be facing three months of rent payments.
The Park City community has come together to help vulnerable populations, stocking food pantries, bolstering basic needs assistance and donating more than $1 million in a month to a response fund created by the Park City Community Foundation.
But the impacts of the pandemic have hit the Latino community disproportionately hard, both financially and physically, community leaders say. The support services are taxed to their limits and last week, three multi-unit apartment complexes that many in the Latino community call home were labeled hot spots for COVID-19.
Enrique Sanchez grew up in Park City and is a community specialist for the city government. He said the financial impacts of the pandemic have been particularly challenging for the area’s Latino community.
“Basically, more Hispanics have lost their jobs, or had a pay cut, which is affecting them hugely due to, in part, that they have jobs that are more service driven, service-industry driven,” Sanchez said. “They don’t have that luxury of working from home because there really is no way to work from home for those jobs.”
He said the economic shutdown has hit his family, as well, with his dad out of work after the restaurant where he works closed down.
Support services have been helpful in providing health care, information and food, Sanchez said, but rent remains one of the biggest worries for many residents.
“I think what I’ve seen would probably be that rent is at the top of their list,” he said. “If you can definitely provide food for your family, without a roof over your head, that’s where more of a problem would begin.”
Local elected officials have indicated they’d like to address the issue but have limited legal authority to do so. County Councilors have pursued meetings with local landlords to try to influence them to cut renters some slack. The elected officials have acknowledged that landlords face financial pressures, as well.
An online petition started by a young Parkite that asks Park City landlords to lower or postpone rent has gathered more than 1,000 signatures since March.
The Latino community’s disproportionate representation in service industry jobs might have health effects, as well, said Beth Armstrong, executive director of the People’s Health Clinic, which serves people who do not have health insurance.
“A lot of (people in the Latino community) continue to work because their jobs are those essential jobs in construction and some of the restaurants are still open doing curbside and they’re still going to work and they put themselves at risk every time they walk out,” Armstrong said. “It’s not like where they’re sitting in their farmhouse on an acre of land. They live — they have close proximity to their neighbors and there might be more than one family living in an apartment. And it’s hard to quarantine yourself. Even if you’re positive, where do you go? There’s really no place to hide.”
She added that undocumented people in the community will not receive the $1,200 federal stimulus checks, nor the additional $500 per child other taxpayers received.
Data provided by Summit County shows Latinos hold a disproportionate number of jobs in several service-industry business sectors like accommodation, food service and construction.
The data comes with a caveat, warns Jeff Jones, the county’s economic development and housing director, because 70% of Summit County’s workforce lives outside of the county.
Using census data, Jones estimates around 11.1% of the county’s 42,465 residents are Hispanic, or just over 4,700 people. In Park City, that percentage is much higher, at 23.4%, or nearly 2,000 of the city’s 8,500 residents.
According to data Jones provided from a labor market analytics firm, 18.3% of accommodation and food service jobs in Summit County are held by Hispanic workers, along with 17.8% of construction jobs, though that does necessarily not mean the workers live here.
The median income for white households in Summit County, according to 2018 data, was $104,700, while it was $61,200 for Hispanic households. The median indicates half of the households earn more than that number while the other half earns less.
As members of the Latino community struggle with employment and financial pressures amid the pandemic, they must also grapple with governmental and societal systems that were built largely by and for English speakers.
One aspect of Sanchez’ job with Park City is to translate important messages to try to reach Spanish speakers. That’s a task that has taken on even more importance in recent weeks as accurate information about the pandemic from government or health care officials has been shared alongside half-truths and falsehoods from less reliable sources.
He said some in his neighborhood in Prospector heard the news about Herbert’s eviction moratorium when one neighbor went around knocking on doors. He’s also heard rumors that started after the county’s stay-at-home order that people who ventured out would be pulled over and fined by law enforcement personnel.
Sanchez provided real-time translation for Park City Mayor Andy Beerman on a recent Facebook Live panel convened by Park City community liaison Lynn Ware Peek. The discussions will be held weekly on Wednesdays, Peek said, and are hosted on the Park City Community Foundation Solomon Fund’s Facebook page, which is largely in Spanish and is a well-known resource among Park City’s Spanish speakers.
The panel featured representatives from the Park City School District, the People’s Health Clinic, the Park City Community Foundation, the Peace House and other Park City government officials.
As of Tuesday, the discussion had been viewed 5,400 times and been shared 65 times. Peek said that the panel of local service providers took more than 60 questions in the 75-minute discussion.
The questions ranged from advice on how to approach a landlord about rent abatement to whether summer camps for children would still be happening.
Other organizations have indicated they would join future discussions.
“There (was) lots of, just, gratitude for getting this information out to the community,” Peek said. “You know, I just think they felt recognized which, a lot of times, that population doesn’t.”
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