Millions fear eviction without more aid from Congress

Millions of tenants are at risk of receiving eviction notices in late July as protections from a major coronavirus stimulus program are set to expire.

The CARES Act, signed in late March, included a moratorium on evictions for tenants in units with federally backed mortgages or other assistance who were unable to pay rent.

But with no agreement in Congress on an extension of the moratorium, families hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic may soon have to make new living arrangements.

“There are now only 25 days left before the federal eviction ban expires on July 25,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, on Monday.

“When it does, many families who have been unable to pay their rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic will face eviction and the devastating consequences that evictions have on families, particularly children,” she added.

The federal moratorium only applies to housing being paid off through federally backed mortgages or insurance, so it only applies to about a fifth of renters.

But because many of the government programs are aimed at keeping costs down for low earners, those renters also tend to be among the most vulnerable. 

A patchwork of other state and local-level policies for keeping people in their homes are also due to expire, creating a slew of potential problems nationwide.

“While the moratorium has protected people for now, there’s this potential tsunami just waiting in the wings for people who haven’t been able to pay rent during this period,” said Andy Winkler, associate director for its housing and infrastructure projects at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

If tenants start getting evicted, it’s not just a matter of finding a new place to live.

“A lot of research shows that it’s an incredibly destabilizing thing for a family to go through eviction, and they often never recover. They remain in poverty,” Winkler said.

Martha Galvez, a researcher at the Urban Institute, noted that state and local governments looking for solutions are finding their hands tied by their own fiscal struggles. Unlike the federal government, state and local governments have to keep balanced budgets, and they are facing severe crunches from losses in sales taxes and lower incomes in general, as well as an increase in unemployment benefit payouts.

“A lot of states and cities are trying to put together emergency measures for renters, but they don’t have the funding to do it in the long term, so they’re facing their own cliff,” Galvez said.

The first round of emergency spending, she added, had proved effective in keeping people afloat during one of the worst economic downturns in the nation’s history. But when the various types of support provided by that law run out, she said, it would be difficult to predict the scale of the evictions.

“That’s part of this conflict, that we see all the signs on the horizon that there could be a really big surge of evictions, but the initial federal stimulus package worked to keep people in place, so it’s sort of this wait and see, which could lead to a lot of people being left out,” she said.

Communities of color, particular Black communities, are set to be the hardest hit.

A new report from housing advocacy organization City Life/Vida Urbana found that in Boston, 78 percent of the evictions since the pandemic were in census tracts where a majority of residents are people of color. Other research has found similar trends in New Orleans and Texas.

“We expect that this will be catastrophic of Black communities, for immigrant communities, and for other communities of color,” said Lisa Owens, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana.

The pandemic, she said, was only exacerbating fault lines that already existed. Without action to help renters, the scale could be devastating.

According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, 30 percent of renters had little or no confidence in their ability to make their next housing payment. The proportion among Black renters was closer to 40 percent.

“This crisis is creating the conditions that will usher in a tidal wave of evictions,” Owens said.

Winkler noted that the problem extended into the public health sphere. Homeless people have been more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, and an increase in homelessness or crowding in shelters could have implications for keeping the pandemic in check.

“This is the first time there’s really this overwhelming imperative to keep people in their homes and we’re treating housing as health care more than we ever have before,” he said.

Experts note that one of the best ways to keep the housing problem in check is to maintain an expanded level of unemployment benefits, which are also due to run dry come August. The income is one of the main things keeping millions of newly unemployed Americans afloat.

But the fate of the unemployment benefit, the eviction moratorium, or other housing support is in limbo.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed not to move the $3 trillion House-passed HEROES Act, which would extend unemployment benefits, the evictions moratorium and provide a huge injection of cash for struggling state and local governments.

McConnell has said he wants to see how well the economy is doing before deciding the scale and scope of the next emergency package.

In a Monday letter to McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pointed to housing specifically as one of the areas where Americans are looking for help.

“As Americans struggle to make rent payments and face evictions and as our health care and child care systems face unprecedented burdens, Senate Republicans have been missing in action at your direction,” they wrote, urging a start to negotiations.

Waters sponsored her own bill that would extend the eviction moratorium into March and also expand its scope, while providing billions in emergency rental assistance and low-cost loans for landlords. It passed in the House Monday night 232-180, largely along party lines.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced a similar act in the Senate.

“This pandemic is yet another painful reminder of just how vulnerable millions of workers are to a single setback whether it is losing your job, a broken-down car, or just being late on rent,” he said. “Congress must act now to keep families in their homes,” he added.

Updated at 9:48 a.m. on July 1.

Tags CARES Act Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Coronavirus Heroes Act Housing Maxine Waters Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Sherrod Brown
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