What You Need to Know About the Eviction Crisis

As Congress debates the details of a stimulus deal, we're giving you a roundup of the eviction crisis as well as the details of what COVID relief could be included in the package.

A teddy bear sits among discarded furniture on the side of the street
Photo by Schwar via Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0

Unless it is extended, the eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will expire soon and millions of Americans may soon wake up to find eviction notices on their doors while a deadly pandemic rages outside. According to Eviction Lab, landlords have filed for 162,563 evictions since the beginning of the pandemic in the 27 cities that the organization tracks. This number is likely an undercount, as it does not track illegal or informal evictions nor does it have data from several major cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

It is clear that in order to stave off a wave of evictions, policymakers must work quickly to provide urgently needed aid to American renters. Here’s a roundup of some key information on the current state of evictions in the United States, as well as some of what’s being done to address it. In this piece, we cover the holes in the CDC’s eviction moratorium that are allowing thousands of people to be evicted in the middle of a pandemic and the deadly consequences imposed upon Americans as states have rushed to lift their moratoriums. We cover the rental assistance component of the latest stimulus bill, how some localities are struggling to distribute federal aid to renters, the cost of inaction, the long-term benefits of rent-relief, and the human costs of an eviction notice.

Congress Hashes Out Stimulus Bill

Over the weekend, a bipartisan group of senators came to an agreement on legislative text that could be added to a spending bill, which must be filed by Dec. 18 in order to avoid a government shutdown. [12/21 Update: The spending bill is expected to be voted on today, with the rent relief and eviction moratorium included.] [12/22 Update: Congress passed the spending bill today. Details about the housing provisions in the emergency COVID-19 relief package can be found in this fact sheet.] The bill includes a 1-month extension of the CDC eviction moratorium and $25 billion in emergency rental assistance funded through the Coronavirus Relief Fund administered by the Treasury Department. Housing advocates from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) had originally pushed Congress to provide the aid through the HUD Emergency Solutions Grant program (ESG) because of HUD’s experience with housing and eviction prevention, but the bipartisan group leaned toward the treasury. Because of this, advocates fought to ensure that the uses of the funds would match as closely as possible to those outlined in the ESG program.

The text outlines that 90 percent of this $25 billion can be used for both utility and rental assistance, with the remaining funds going to stabilization services that will allow people to get into new rental housing, such as covering the costs of security deposits, rental applications, legal services, and other activities.

Rental assistance can be used for both back rent and forward-looking rent as well as back utility payments and forward-looking utility payments, for a combination of 18 months in total.

Advocates also fought for and secured language that prioritized low-income households to receive assistance. The legislation requires that preference is given to households at or below 50 percent AMI and institutes an eligibility cap at 80 percent AMI.

The assistance will be available to anyone meeting that income cap who is facing financial hardship because of the pandemic. This is a big win for advocates since some Republican members of Congress wanted to limit eligibility to those who could prove that they were undergoing COVID-related hardships. This would have required cumbersome documentation, which would be both a burden and an obstacle to many renters to accessing assistance. “If you had a job and the business went under,” says Sarah Saadian, vice president of public policy at NLIHC, “how would you get proof from your old boss that you were laid off because of a COVID hardship? This [language] is much broader and will serve people regardless of why they’re facing eviction.”

[RELATED: What an Effective Eviction Moratorium Must Include]

However, housing advocates acknowledge that the $25 billion in rent relief is not nearly enough to meet the $34 to $70 billion rent backlog, and is far from the $100 billion that NLIHC says is needed to ensure broad housing stability. With the nation’s renters $75 billion short of necessary emergency assistance, it’s clear that state governments will need to step up to fill that gap if they want to save lives and prevent evictions. Additionally, merely extending the CDC moratorium for one month does nothing to address the loopholes that landlords have exploited to kick folks out of their homes. The package also currently lacks critical resources needed to assist those living in HUD and USDA housing, nor does it provide funding to serve the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness. Despite the bill’s flaws, Saadian says, this $25 billion is critically needed and will do a lot of good to help ensure that low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children will be able to stay in their homes during this global health crisis.

The rental assistance is part of a $900 billion bill that lawmakers are hoping will get enough support to pass by Dec. 27. It also includes $330 billion for small-business aid and vaccine distribution, $13 billion in food aid, federal student loan deferment until April 2021, an additional $300 in weekly unemployment insurance for 16 weeks into April 2021, and possibly another round of stimulus checks amounting to $600 per individual.

Despite the CDC’s Eviction Ban, Thousands of Tenants Are Losing Their Homes

Regarding the flaws of the CDC eviction moratorium mentioned above, Bryce Covert wrote an excellent article for The Nation covering the ways in which lackluster enforcement and a plethora of loopholes in the language of the moratorium have enabled landlords to skirt the requirements.

Chief among these loopholes is the fact that the CDC moratorium only prevents landlords from evicting tenants for the inability to pay rent. Landlords have quickly found ways to bypass this, from refusing to renew leases to meticulously scrutinizing their tenants’ actions and lifestyles in order to find other grounds for eviction.

The moratorium also allows landlords to take every step of the eviction process except for actually removing the tenant. That means many tenants may simply be threatened with eviction and choose to move on their own. Many tenants may be unaware of the eviction moratorium entirely since landlords are not obligated to inform their tenants about it. On top of this, the moratorium continues to make many of the same mistakes that the CARES Act moratorium made.

These are just a few of the many flaws in the CDC’s eviction moratorium that are costing thousands of Americans their homes every day.

Report Finds that the Cost of Evictions Will Be Higher than the Cost of Preventing Them

A report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that in late October, 16 percent of all renters were behind on rent. A quarter of all renters had no or only slight confidence that they could pay next month’s rent on time, and another quarter of all renters had only moderate confidence that they could do so. The researchers used data from the Household Pulse survey administered by the Census Bureau to arrive at these numbers.

The racial disparity in rent delinquency was stark: more than 26 percent of all Black renters and 18 percent of all Latino renters were behind on rent compared to only 10 percent of white renters. This is consistent with earlier research, such as this study conducted by City Life in June that found that 78 percent of Boston evictions during the pandemic in market-rate housing occurred in communities of color.

Stout Risius Ross, a global consulting firm, estimated in September that between 9.5 million and 13.9 million renter households could face eviction by Jan. 2021. Furthermore, the cost of emergency shelter, inpatient medical care, emergency medical care, foster care, and juvenile delinquency services for evicted renters who become homeless will cost between $62 billion and $129 billion by January of 2021 depending on the extent to which renters can continue to pay their rent, which is well above the $26 to $29 billion in rent that renters are estimated to owe their landlords by January of 2021. These figures also could notably be well above the $100 billion in rental assistance that NLIHC says is necessary to prevent the eviction wave and its long-term costs in the first place.

Early Lifting of Moratoriums Resulted in Almost 11,000 Avoidable Deaths

A UCLA study published in late November estimated that 10,700 COVID-19 deaths were caused by the lifting of state eviction moratoriums. “Evictions may accelerate COVID-19 transmission by increasing household crowding and decreasing individuals’ ability to comply with social distancing directives,” it said. After controlling for factors such as stay-at-home orders, school closures, and mask mandates, the researchers estimated that the lifting of moratoriums could have resulted in between 365,200 and 502,200 excess coronavirus cases and between 8,900 and 12,500 excess deaths—an average of 433,700 cases and 10,700 deaths.

“I think whenever you see numbers like 430,000 cases, 10,000 deaths, it’s surprising and it’s troubling. These are deaths that could have been prevented had the states maintained their moratoriums,” says one of the study’s lead researchers, Kathryn Leifheit of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.

The results of this research morbidly affirms what housing advocates have been saying not just since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, but for years prior: that access to safe and affordable housing is a matter of life and death. The rushed and premature lifting of state eviction moratoriums not only cost thousands of households their shelter, but pushed many into homelessness or into overcrowded living conditions that provided kindling for COVID-19 to spread like wildfire. These evictions alone have exacted a death toll three times that of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and exacerbated a public health emergency that disproportionately kills people of color, seniors, immigrants, and low-income individuals.

This study should be a wake-up call to officials at every level of government to ensure that housing is not relegated to the back burner, but as a pressing determinant of the outcome of this pandemic.

Evicted—Navigating the Eviction Process and its Lasting Impact

As policymakers, housing agencies, and nonprofits battle over legislation, eviction notices have become the new scarlet letter for many of America’s low-income households, often with devastating and long-lasting consequences. Despite a national eviction moratorium, millions of renters will soon navigate a costly and inefficient system. Dana Bartolemei from the National Housing Trust wrote a detailed and somber description of America’s eviction crisis from within for Shelterforce that has been getting new interest lately.

“I’m sharing my eviction story now because my privilege allows it. I have a master’s degree in urban planning with a concentration in housing and community development. I am an affordable-housing professional with a focus on energy efficiency in multifamily affordable housing. My parents, brother, and sister-in-law are attorneys who provided invaluable, and most importantly, free, legal advice. I could also afford local legal representation.

“And still, five years later, the choice my landlord made to file to evict follows me.”

Read Full Article

Use It or Lose It: Tenant Aid Effort Nears a Federal Cutoff

As Conor Dougherty from The New York Times recently described, public servants and nonprofit employees across the country are struggling to quickly distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid that is still insufficient to meet the vast level of need present in many communities. State-issued rules piled on top of federal guidelines on how the funding should be spent have created hurdles and delays to spending the money before the end of the month.

“Hoping to distribute the remaining aid before it is forfeited, many states and cities are simplifying applications and moving money from nonprofits that can’t process the aid fast enough to those that can,” writes Dougherty. “Others are redirecting the funds to different purposes, lest they go unspent.”

Look for a Shelterforce article coming soon looking in depth at the ways Massachusetts is trying to approach quick distribution in its state-level rental assistance programs.

The Long-Term Benefits of Getting Rent Relief Right

Rental assistance should not be considered just an emergency measure, but instead should be incorporated into our normal housing policy. Dan Emmanuel of the National Low Income Housing Coalition makes the case for its expansion, explaining the need for it both among tenants as well as nonprofit and tax credit-funded housing providers.

“Homes financed through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, our nation’s largest affordable housing production program, are reaching the end of their federally mandated 30-year affordability restrictions for the first time. Over the next decade, more than 387,000 LIHTC units could reach this milestone. Many, if not most, of these homes will need reinvestment to preserve their affordability, quality, or both. The growing need for capital subsidies to address this preservation challenge should already be obvious to anyone involved with affordable housing. However, expanding rental assistance like Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) is an equally important policy goal that can help ensure the security and well-being of tenants, and ultimately contribute to preservation.”

Brandon Duong is an associate editor for Shelterforce. He recently received a master's degree from the Urban Planning & Policy program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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