In March, the federal government issued a moratorium on evictions due to the closures and job losses that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic. On July 25, the moratorium expires and unless Congress acts fast, thousands of Black people are at risk of losing their housing.
Analysis conducted by The Center of Public Integrity (CPI) has shown that of the 8,089 eviction notices that have been filed since March, a disproportionate number affect Black and brown residents in low-income areas. Black people were already among those most likely to have lost their job as a result of the closures, and, according to the CDC, are five times more likely to contract the virus than white people. The housing crisis only adds to the stressors brought on by the virus.
Latoyia Lorrain, a mother of two who works customer service for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Orlando, Fla., told CPI that her hours were cut back at the start of the pandemic and her partner lost his job as a cook at Hard Rock Cafe. As a result, Lorrain owes $1,900 in rent from May and June. Her landlord taped a note to her door saying her lease will not be renewed in August, when Florida’s eviction moratorium expires, and that she must leave the home or face eviction. “We’re a family that’s doing everything right — at least up to now. I am not a person who doesn’t like to pay their bills” Lorraine told the Center.
Lorrain’s story is only one of thousands who may lose their residence, even as officials across the country urge people to stay at home.
The country was already in the grips of an affordable housing crisis, and COVID-19 has only further highlighted the existing disparities that exist between Black people and white people. The housing crisis has disproportionately affected Black people as, according to the Census Bureau, 59 percent of homes occupied by Black people are rented compared to only 28 percent of non-Hispanic white occupied homes. For low income households, there are only four homes for every 10 renters in the lowest income bracket. This means that even as thousands are set to be evicted, there are still plenty more who are waiting to take their place.
“It’s so easy to just churn through tenants,” Anne Kat Alexander, a project leader with Princeton University’s Eviction Lab to the Center. She went on to say that while most landlords have legal representation, most tenants can’t afford a lawyer making legal action unlikely. “The deck is stacked against tenants currently,” she added.
Public Integrity analyzed 8,089 eviction cases filed between March 27 and July 10 available in a database managed by Thomson Reuters Westlaw, a court tracking service. Westlaw does not have universal court coverage and the filings are not evenly distributed. About two-thirds come from Florida and Georgia.
Still, the pattern is clear. Landlords are filing eviction cases in poor, non-white neighborhoods across the jurisdictions Public Integrity examined:
- Nearly two-thirds of the eviction cases were against tenants living in census tracts with a minority population above that of the national average of 39 percent.
- Nearly half of the eviction cases were filed against tenants living in census tracts with a median household income that was below $42,000, the bottom quarter of all tracts nationally.
- About 37 percent of the eviction cases were filed against tenants living in census tracts with both an above-average proportion of non-white people and median household income in the lowest-income quartile. Only about 14 percent of Americans live in such a tract.
Evictions are difficult to track because no national system compiles cases filed by landlords. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University recently released a real-time eviction tracker for 11 cities, which shows eviction filings are increasing in places that have weaker tenant protections.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Act (CARES) placed a moratorium on evictions for properties backed by federal mortgages, which only accounted for 28 percent of the 43.8 million rental units in the country. This means that even through the moratorium, people were still being evicted throughout the country. Additionally, the moratorium didn’t prevent landlords from being able to file eviction documents in courts, meaning that once it ends there are thousands of cases that are waiting to be processed.
Jamos “Jay” Mobley, a housing advocate and the senior housing attorney for the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, has warned that a “tsunami of evictions” is likely as the moratorium is set to end. For his part, Mobley has trained each lawyer on his staff in landlord-tenant statutes for the inevitable surge of calls once the moratorium ends in Florida.
Eviction doesn’t just put someone out of a home, it also limits their ability to find future housing. Evictions leave a permanent mark on a renter’s credit history and quite often, landlords will refuse to rent to a tenant if they have an eviction on their record. Simply put, people are being permanently punished for a situation that they played little role in creating.
Unless Congress acts quickly and passes another stimulus package, thousands of families are going to be put out on the street during a pandemic that’s showing no signs of abating.
In places like Florida and Georgia that are currently facing massive spikes in cases, the moratorium expiration could not come at a worse time. Given that Senate Republicans are currently at odds over another stimulus bill, this situation may get much worse before it gets better.