As “shelter in place” orders are increasing across the country amid the coronavirus outbreak, eviction notices are still being issued by landlords and renters are still facing the possibility of being put out of their homes.
While Trump announced on Wednesday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would be “providing immediate relief to renters and homeowners by suspending all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April,” experts say renters are still in major trouble.
According to the Washington Post, the 60-day moratorium on evictions issued by HUD will pause eviction proceedings for some 30 million homeowners, but not the nation’s 40 million renters. Under these conditions, millions of Americans, many of whom lost work due to the coronavirus pandemic, may not only suffer the loss of their homes but risk exposure to infection.
This especially affects elderly citizens like Jill Ferguson, who shared her story with the Post.
The landlord was knocking, but Jill Ferguson had made a promise to her children. She was 66 years old with chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), someone far more likely to die if she contracted the coronavirus. Ferguson had been self-isolating for days inside her Wisconsin duplex, so on Monday, she waited until the knocking stopped before she opened the door. Taped onto it was an eviction notice.
“Remove from the following described premises on or before April 15,” it read.
Ferguson slammed the door and rushed to find her inhalers. She felt like she couldn’t breathe. She knew her landlord outside Milwaukee was selling her building and that the new owners might want to take over her unit. But she hadn’t thought it would be this soon. How was she supposed to find a new place if leaving her home meant risking her life?
A Milwaukee judge ordered sheriff’s deputies to stop serving eviction orders in the county. But that order is only good until April 9 and it came one day after Ferguson had already been convicted.
Meanwhile, in Cobb County, Ga., the Atlanta Journal-Constitution covered the story of Jazmine White. After being officially evicted in a hearing that took place just one day before, the 29-year-old mother of two narrowly escaped eviction from her apartment when Georgia’s chief justice declared a “statewide judicial emergency” and directed courts to cease nonessential operations, which includes evictions.
White, who lost income as a bartender after bars and restaurants closed down, was informed that there was a freeze on evictions only after she’d lost the ruling.
“I don’t even know if I have the strength to figure out what to do next,” White said. “Maybe if they felt more empathy they would know how important it is for us to know exactly what’s going on.”
Fortunately, White was informed by an AJC reporter that her case was on hold. She later confirmed it with the court.
“It really does take away a lot of the stress in terms of figuring out what my next priority is because it wasn’t necessarily getting my kids’ homework done and now it can be,” she said. “It buys me some time.”
There has not been a national moratorium on evictions put in place yet. Housing advocates say without one, more citizens will fall through the cracks despite the pause in evictions, and that Black and Hispanic Americans who are renters—
and work for low wages—would be disproportionately affected, the Post noted.
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, probably said it best:
“It’s important that there be a uniform policy that gives everyone in America an assurance that we won’t lose our home in the midst of a public health emergency.”