Today’s Read: Millions Face Eviction as Pandemic Relief Measures End

As the nation remains in the grips of a historic public health crisis that has undeniably proven that housing is health care, the corresponding economic crisis threatens to create a surge in homelessness unless Congress acts swiftly to help people stay in their homes. Even before the pandemic began, the United States was facing a dire lack of affordable housing that forced countless renters to live paycheck-to-paycheck and fueled persistent mass homelessness. The economic disruption and mass unemployment triggered by the coronavirus pandemic pushed many people over the edge, and a patchwork of temporary eviction moratoria, economic assistance, and scant rent relief programs have been the only safeguards keeping many people in their homes over the past few months.

Now, with the Federal eviction moratorium and many state-level protections expiring – and with Congress dithering on whether to extend vital unemployment benefits and allocate desperately needed rent assistance – the tsunami of evictions that advocates have forecast may be imminent. A new report from leading housing experts estimates that 30 to 40 million people nationwide could be at risk of eviction in the coming months, based on the latest U.S. Census data. This means that anywhere from 29 to 43 percent of renter households may be at risk of eviction by the end of the year. Furthermore, at a moment when the nation is reckoning with our long history of systemic racism, communities of color are at disproportionate risk of eviction:

Black and Latinx populations consistently report low confidence in the ability to pay rent during the pandemic. The Census Bureau’s Week 12 Housing Pulse Survey indicates that nearly half of Black (42%) and Hispanic (49%) renters have slight or no confidence in their ability to pay next month’s rent on time, a figure that is twice as high as white renters (22%). Moreover, 26% of Black renters and 25% of Hispanic renters reported being unable to pay rent last month, compared to 13% of white renters.

Evictions on such a dramatic scale would have long-ranging economic and health impacts. Losing one’s home is traumatic enough without the added threat of a pandemic, but now – with homeless people facing a higher risk of illness and death due to COVID-19 – allowing mass evictions would also hurt the nation’s efforts to combat the virus. Simply put: People cannot follow public health guidance to stay at home if they have no home in which to stay.

The only way to prevent this needless cataclysm is for the Federal government to invest in rent assistance and extend critical tenant protections for the duration of the public health crisis. The House of Representatives has passed two bills that include $100 billion in emergency rent assistance, among other housing and homelessness funds: the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (the HEROES Act) and the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020. However, negotiations over the next Federal stimulus package have stalled after the Senate released a woefully inadequate proposal at the eleventh hour. Contact your representatives here to urge them to immediately enact these critical housing investments and protections, and spread the word on social media using #RentReliefNow.

Conor Dougherty wrote about the new eviction report for The New York Times:

After the recent lapse of a federal supplement to unemployment payments, and with a patchwork of eviction moratoriums either at an end or set to expire soon, 30 million to 40 million tenants risk losing their homes in the coming months, according to a report released Friday by dozens of academic researchers and housing advocates.

Even if the actual number is a fraction of that figure, it would still be several times the current annual rate of eviction filings — about 3.7 million a year. And it could have a cascade of effects that erode affordable housing and weaken an already hobbled housing system long after the coronavirus crisis has subsided, by pushing small landlords into foreclosure and further weakening state and local budgets as property-tax collections fall behind.

If you are at risk of eviction in New York, please visit this page to learn about available resources and the latest information about housing court.