With eviction moratoria expiring, we need permanent housing solutions
The federal eviction moratorium is set to expire in just a few days, on July 31. Many cities and states have already begun to phase out housing protections set in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rental assistance programs are struggling to disperse aid, while renters continue to fall behind. But it’s clear that the COVID-19 crisis and the housing affordability crisis that pre-dated the pandemic are not over yet. Lifting protections for renters is premature and will likely create the worst national eviction crisis in U.S. history.
Renters have been strung along during the pandemic by unreliable protections and aid, and overall renter confidence in being able to pay rent and stay housed remains low. At both local and federal levels, piecemeal actions that provide protections and aid have often been decided or extended at the 11th hour, leaving no time for renters to prepare and no clarity on whether they will be able to maintain housing or have just a few days before being kicked out of their home. To preemptively avoid facing the mark of an eviction as local and federal protections lag, households have been scrambling for alternatives by having additional family members move into already too-small spaces, cutting costs from food, health care and other basic needs, and multiplying credit card and loan debt. Where protections and aid were lacking, grassroots and mutual aid campaigns stepped up to provide for communities who have been left behind by their governments. But these organizations, even with full community support, will struggle to undo the harms being created by rapidly growing income and resource inequalities and a lack of official protections for renters.
A long history of existing racist housing policies and practices, whether explicit or not, have contributed to disparate impacts on housing security. These actions can look like intentional racial segregation, landlords showing families of color fewer rental options and source of income or housing voucher discrimination. According to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, during the pandemic one in six renters reported being behind on rent payments. Renters of color and disabled renters have experienced consistently higher rates of housing insecurity than white renters and renters without disabilities, reporting being less caught up on rent, less confident in being able to pay next month’s rent and expect to face eviction in the coming months at higher rates.
Even prior to the pandemic, Black and Latinx communities face evictions at higher rates, and Black women renters experiencing the highest percentage of eviction overall, at rates three times higher than those of white women renters. The impacts of eviction go beyond the devastating loss of housing. Experiencing the process of eviction and losing one’s home has negative impacts on an individual and household’s mental and physical health, and increases food insecurity, criminalization and barriers to obtaining future housing. When housing is lost, people of color in particular face greater hardships when experiencing homelessness as families encounter a “pileup of inequalities” that contribute to cycles of multigenerational poverty.
The Biden administration, federal agencies, and state and local elected leaders have shown that they can exercise the authority to protect renters by keeping them housed through federal moratoria on evictions. Some states and cities have gone beyond the protections offered by federal moratoria, while others have pushed back. Even with these in place, some courts continue to proceed with eviction filings and procedures over the last year and a half, despite federal and local protections. When protections were lifted — like many were during the summer months of 2020 — eviction claims rose dramatically and courts received history numbers of eviction filings. Eviction moratoria, when in place, work to keep people housed.
As states and cities look to phase out their own eviction moratoria, some protections have been put in place, including preventing evictions for households with rent arrears who are currently seeking rental assistance as states are slow to rollout rental assistance and investing in tenant-landlord mediation programs. During the pandemic, large corporate landlords have fueled the eviction crisis that we are facing despite moratoria, while some small landlords have expressed concern for their own financial stability. However, investing in tenants-centered aid and protections, such as direct-to-tenant rental assistance and housing vouchers, helps both tenants and landlords make ends meets. Though these solutions are essential, temporary actions are not enough to solve the long history of housing insecurity or the current ongoing crisis. We need to invest in robust changes that are person-centered and affirming of human rights that explicitly recognize long histories of racist, sexist, ableist and anti-immigrant policies that create the disparate impacts in housing insecurity and intentional structural inequalities that persist today.
We are still in a public health emergency and the pandemic is not over. Ending eviction moratoria will likely lead to an increase in COVID-19 infection rates and deaths, as has been shown in cases over during the pandemic. As new variants spread, many people are far from recovery. Without actions to make sure that people’s basic human needs are met — including housing — many may never recover. Investments in affordable, accessible housing that respond to the needs of communities where people want to live and are constructed for various family and household compositions are essential for ensuring healthy communities. Housing is a human right, and not protecting renters is negligent and malicious.
Real, longstanding, transformative solutions are long overdue. Poverty and homelessness are the result of policy choices. We know the solutions to prevent evictions and keep people housed now and in the future. Not taking action is a message from people who hold power that they are not concerned with the health, wellbeing and safety of those they are accountable to. The impacts of the pandemic will not disappear because we want them to, and we can and must use this moment to build better systems that work for all people and disrupt current paths to exacerbated future inequalities.
Jaboa Lake is a senior policy analyst for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress.