Eviction bans ending — massive eviction crisis looms

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Eviction moratoria in states across the U.S. are coming to an end. Many state and local leaders are working to extend these measures to protect renters, but eventually, the rent will be due. Unfortunately, the end of these eviction moratoria doesn’t mean the end of when renters need help. 

The number of renters who can’t pay their rent is expected to climb in the coming months as the COVID-19 crisis continues to leave millions of people without jobs and the CARES Act’s supplemental boost to unemployment insurance ends on July 31. 

The country could face a massive eviction crisis when these moratoria and supplemental benefits end, which could lead to a surge in renters losing their homes, an increase in homelessness and a strain on public services. One analysis predicts that homelessness could increase 40 to 45 percent by the end of the year. A rise in homelessness could mean a rise in the use of shelters and emergency rooms, all of which likely cost more than helping a family stay in their home. A federal funding infusion in rental assistance can prevent a wide-scale surge in evictions and homelessness. 

Before the pandemic, the U.S. was already facing affordable housing, eviction and homelessness crises. In 2015, just over 8 million renters had worst case housing needs, meaning they had extremely low incomes, lacked housing assistance, had severe rent burdens or lived in severely inadequate housing. Landlords file approximately over 3 million eviction notices every year. Moreover, on any given night in 2019, over 560,000 people were experiencing homelessness, with over 200,000 enduring sleeping outside. The pandemic could send all these numbers skyrocketing, causing long-term ramifications for families.

When families are evicted and forced to move, they often lose their possessions, parents may lose their jobs and kids may have to switch schools. For some families, an eviction on their record could prevent landlords from renting to them, making it difficult to find a new home and potentially leading to them becoming homeless. This is more likely to happen for Black and Native American households, people with extremely low incomes and people with histories of involvement in systems such as child welfare and criminal or juvenile justice. These groups face discrimination in many facets of their lives, including in the rental housing market, making it less likely that they will be able to find housing again. 

If tenants are evicted and forced into homelessness, they would encounter an already overburdened homeless assistance system and many more could have to endure sleeping outside. People who currently are forced to live outside have higher rates of serious health conditions, are more likely to experience an attack or physical trauma and are less likely to have access to services and hygiene materials to keep them healthy. These risks are especially dangerous during a pandemic. People who sleep outside also use emergency rooms and hospitals — which are already under strain from the pandemic — at higher rates than people who are housed and sheltered. They also face frequent, forced interactions with police and jails, which have extremely high rates of COVID-19 transmission.

The federal government has taken steps to help renters through the CARES Act, and resources are flowing to states and localities. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has distributed about $10 billion through Emergency Solutions Grants and the Community Development Block Grant — programs that can be used to help prevent evictions or homelessness. But both programs also include other eligible activities beyond housing assistance that would be priorities in communities. 

Even if jurisdictions spent all these resources on assisting renters, it still wouldn’t be sufficient. A scan of 43 new state and local rental assistance programs that were quickly created to respond to renters’ needs during the pandemic showed that there is not nearly enough assistance. These programs were quickly overwhelmed.

The federal government can take further steps to approve more funding and invest in programs that work. An Urban Institute analysis found it would take $15.5 billion per month to make housing affordable for all renters, meaning a 30 percent rent-to-income ratio which is the standard used by the U.S. government for housing affordability. 

In addition to more resources, the last major economic crisis offers a road map for ways to prevent homelessness. During the Great Recession, the $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) was created in 2009 to help prevent homelessness and help people who became homeless reenter the private rental market. The program showed why it is critical for Congress to ensure rental assistance funding is flexible enough for renters to use it to pay for rent and utility arrears in addition to current or future rent obligations. HPRP, as well as an eviction prevention program in Minnesota, have also shown the importance of pairing financial assistance with legal services and landlord mediation and negotiation assistance.

Evictions can disrupt people’s lives and lead to a host of negative outcomes for families and communities. As eviction moratoria are ending, the federal government can step in to prevent a wave of evictions and homelessness and help families weather the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.

Samantha Batko is a senior research associate in the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. Her areas of expertise include homelessness, housing instability, housing assistance and supportive services. 

Mychal Cohen is a research associate in the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. His areas of expertise include affordable housing, neighborhood initiatives and community development.

Tags CARES Act coronavirus crisis COVID-19 eviction Eviction moratoriums homeless in U.S. Homelessness Housing crisis shelter Stimulus Package

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