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Wave of evictions could be coming for nation's renters

The federal moratorium on evictions signed into law in March as part of the CARES Act is set to expire Friday night at midnight, setting up the potential for a wave of evictions in the middle of a pandemic that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE acknowledged this week will get worse before it gets better.

It’s possible that the moratorium will be extended as part of a new relief bill, but Congress is mired in negotiations and is not expected to finalize legislation until early August.

Some Democrats are sounding the alarm.

“Communities across this country need eviction protections and housing assistance in order to avert mass evictions and homelessness,” said Rep. Jesús García (D-Ill.). “If we fail to act, recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and the looming economic crisis will be impossible.”

The most recent survey by the U.S. census showed that 23.7 million Americans had little or no confidence in their ability to pay the coming month’s rent, accounting for a third of all renters. Over half that number already reported not paying their most recent month’s rent.

Not everyone facing eviction has been protected by the federal moratorium. It only applied to people renting from units with federal mortgages, which accounts for just over a quarter of all rental units, according to an analysis from the Urban Institute.

Other renters have been protected by broader eviction moratoria issued at the state and local level, but some of those have already expired.

In June, the Federal Housing Administration announced that it is extending its
foreclosure and eviction moratorium through Aug. 31 for those with federally insured single-family mortgages.

“You just sort of have a patchwork across the country,” said Samantha Batko, senior research associate at the Urban Institute.

But for those whose sole protection has come from the federal moratorium, a number which could amount to millions of renters, Saturday could start with a demand for months of delayed rent, or an eviction notice.

Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions in a dozen U.S. cities, found that eviction filings resumed to pre-pandemic levels almost immediately after local eviction moratoriums expire.

In Milwaukee, evictions were 17 percent higher than average in June, the month after eviction moratoria expired in Wisconsin.

Senate Democrats are pushing a series of bills to shore up protections from renters, encompassing measures that the House passed in May’s HEROES Act.

“Forcing thousands of people out of their homes during a pandemic will make a public health crisis worse,” said Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Disney laying off 32,000 workers as coronavirus batters theme parks MORE (D-Mass.), who alongside Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y), Sen. Sharrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Democratic senators offer bill to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers MORE (D-Md.) is pushing for extending protections.

Schumer pointed to studies that found evictions can lead to a slew of other tough problems, including deteriorating health and trouble finding work,

“You throw someone out of their home, their whole life gets disrupted,” he said.

Their legislation would broaden the moratorium beyond the federal level and extend it until March. It would also create a rental assistance fund.

Creating such a fund is critical, Batko said, because moratoria could only serve as a temporary solution for people who have lost jobs and wages and have seen back rent pile up.

“Moratoria are just a stopgap. They prevent eviction in the moment, but they don’t pay back rent. Families that have lost their jobs are accumulating rent arrears over time that will be incredibly difficult to climb out of,” she said.

The fund would also help the mom and pop landlords who haven’t been able to collect rent checks, and in some cases rely on them for income, not to mention paying for repairs and maintenance.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) estimate that at least $100 billion in rent assistance is needed nationally. 

This week NHLP, the NLIHC, and more than 150 other organizations called on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to use its authority to halt evictions in their properties and programs. HUD, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the major types of federal rental assistance in the U.S.

Groups that represent landlords, such as the National Multifamily Housing Council, have called for Congress and state governments to allocate rent assistance instead of extending eviction moratoriums.

Local and state governments have passed their own rent assistance programs, though they’ve quickly dried out. In Houston, for example, the city exhausted its $14.4 million rent assistance program within 90 minutes, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“It's really the federal government that has deep enough pockets to provide tangible rental assistance that can help deal with the problems that we're facing,” said Shamus Roller, executive director of NHLP.

Renters typically have 30 days to respond to an eviction notice. Roller said that remote eviction hearings “lack very basic due process requirements in order to function,” putting renters at a further disadvantage.

“So even the basic procedures around an eviction are pretty problematic right now,” Roller said.

A survey from the left-leaning Justice Collaborative found that 62 percent of voters, including 51 percent of Republicans, support some form of rent forgiveness.

But such broad plans to shore up housing remain in question as Congress wrangles over the next relief bill.

While Democrats have pushed their $3 trillion HEROES Act as the template, Republicans have insisted that the bill should be closer to $1 trillion.

After putting off negotiations on the new bill for weeks, the GOP found itself beset by infighting this week, and had to postpone the release of its own bill, seen as an opening bid in negotiations with Democrats.

It is now expected to arrive next week, after the eviction moratorium expires and just days before other key provisions, such as $600 in extra weekly unemployment insurance, go up in smoke.

Republicans are also pushing to lower the price tag on the unemployment payments by about a third, noting that most people receiving the payments are earning more than they would at work.

But for those facing financial troubles, the cut in benefits could hasten a potential eviction.

“We know renters have been struggling to pay their rent. They’re generally lower incomes, have less assets to draw on, and work in industries that are subject to job loss,” said Batko.

“We’ve already seen in places that moratoria ended that people are losing their homes,” she added.