The enormousness of the crisis brought on by COVID-19 cannot be overstated. Cases and deaths are steadily rising in multiple states, as are unemployment numbers. Despite the continued severity of the crisis, Congress has stalled on passing a new relief bill and as the federal moratorium on evictions ends, millions of Americans are expected to lose their homes in the coming months.
The Associated Press reports that between 19-23 million people are currently at risk of losing their homes as the eviction moratorium comes to an end. According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, around 30 state moratoriums have expired since May and many people have been subjected to illegal evictions even when the moratoriums were active. As courts begin to re-open, they’ve been packed with tenants outlining how drastically the pandemic has altered their lives.
From the Associated Press:
Experts predict the problem will only get worse in the coming weeks, with 30 million unemployed and uncertainty whether Congress will extend the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits that expired Friday. The federal eviction moratorium that protects more than 12 million renters living in federally subsidized apartments or units with federally backed mortgages expired July 25. If it’s not extended, landlords can initiate eviction proceedings in 30 days.
“It’s going to be a mess,” said Bill Faith, executive director of Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, referring to the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, which found last week that more than 23% of Ohioans questioned said they weren’t able to make last month’s rent or mortgage payment or had little or no confidence they could pay next month’s.
Nationally, the figure was 26.5% among adults 18 years or older, with numbers in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Nevada, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee and Texas reaching 30% or higher. The margins of error in the survey vary by state.
In Milwaukee, evictions rose 21 percent to almost 1,500 in June after the state’s moratorium ended in May. Housing experts are worried that Milwaukee is simply a preview of what’s to come nationwide. “We are getting calls to us from zip codes that we don’t typically serve, the part of the community that aren’t used to coming to us,” Colleen Foley, the executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, told AP. “It’s a reflection of the massive job loss and a lot of people facing eviction who aren’t used to not paying their rent.”
While in some states, such as Ohio, where eviction filings are steadily increasing and in some cases reaching hundreds per week, the eviction rate for July was still lower than it has been in prior years, largely because of the moratorium. That is expecting to change in August and September as more evictions are able to be processed.
On a state level, steps have been taken to try and mitigate the damage. Some states spent millions of federal stimulus on rental assistance and other states, such as Massachusetts and Arizona, have extended the state moratorium until the fall. Still, many experts say that isn’t enough and have called on both federal and state lawmakers to pass more extensive protections for both renters and landlords.
“An eviction moratorium without rental assistance is still a recipe for disaster. We need the basic economics of the housing market to continue to work. The way you do that is you need broad-based rental assistance available to families who have lost employment during this crisis.” said Graham Bowman, staff attorney with the Ohio Poverty Law Center. “The scale of this problem is enormous so it needs a federal response.”
Unfortunately, Congress is still at an impasse over a new relief bill. The House Democrats passed a $3 trillion bill in May that would provide $175 billion in rental assistance. The Senate Republicans presented a counterbill worth $1 trillion that provides only several billions in rental assistance. Housing advocates have argued that they need at least $100 billion.
While the federal government goes back and forth on a price point, millions of Americans like Natasha Blunt are in danger of losing their home. Blunt, a 50-year-old Black woman, lost her job as a banquet porter at the start of the pandemic. As a result, she is in danger of losing the two- bedroom apartment she shares with her two grandchildren once the federal moratorium ends.
“I can’t believe this happened to me because I work hard,” Blunt told AP. “I don’t have any money coming in. I don’t have nothing. I don’t know what to do. ... My heart is so heavy.”