Even as the pandemic rages on, many eviction protections are coming to an end.
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President Donald Trump said earlier this month that he didn’t want people evicted during the pandemic and that his executive action “will solve that problem largely, hopefully completely.”
Experts disagreed, since the president was only directing federal agencies to consider measures to prevent evictions.
Now, the Department of Housing and Urban Development says it will extend a ban on evictions in single-family houses with mortgages issued by the Federal Housing Administration, Politico reported this week. Indeed, that protection would be far narrower than the now-expired eviction moratorium in the CARES Act, which also included properties backed by government-sponsored lenders Fannie May and Freddie Mac, and was estimated to have covered nearly a third of the country’s rental units.
“HUD’s new moratorium only applies to a slight fraction of the units covered under the CARES Act and does nothing to protect the overwhelming majority of renters in the United States from eviction and its devastating consequences,” said Emily Benfer, an eviction expert and visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.
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Will Fischer, senior director for housing policy and research at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the ban, “would help little to no renters.”
“If we don’t see an extension of moratoriums and rental assistance, there’s a real risk we’re going to see a sharp rise in evictions,” Fischer said.
It remains to be seen if deeper protections are announced or if Congress strikes a deal on another stimulus package that could extend relief to renters.
But time is running out.
The federal eviction moratorium in the CARES Act expired at the end of July, and since it required tenants in protected properties to get 30 days notice of their eviction, proceedings will be able to start as early as next week, said Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project.
“Landlords are just waiting,” he said.
Leaving Americans even more vulnerable is the fact that the $600 weekly federal unemployment boost expired at the end of July and Democrats and Republicans have been unable to reach a compromise over what to replace it with. Now jobless Americans have only their state benefit to rely on, which can be as little as $5 or $15 a week.
Up to 40 million Americans may lose their homes in this downturn, four times the amount seen during the Great Recession. More than 1 in 5 renters were behind on their in July. Some states will be especially hard hit: Nearly 60% of renters in West Virginia are at risk of eviction, compared to 22% in Vermont.
At the same time that federal protections against eviction come to an end, many states that paused their own proceedings have now allowed them to resume. Since July 15, eviction moratoriums have lapsed in Michigan, Maryland, Maine and Indiana.
“It’s going to be chaos,” Dunn said.
Alexis Erkert, a lawyer with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, can attest to that. Since the moratorium lapsed in her state in June, she said, “our eviction intake is three times what it was this time last year.” She’s currently handling around 100 cases.
Ronda Farve fell behind on her rent after she was laid off from her job as a chef at a restaurant in New Orleans in March. Her landlord is trying to evict the single mother and her two children.
She said she feels like she’s being punished for something outside of her control.
“If I have it, I’m going to pay it,” Farve, 29, said. “This is the roof over my children’s head.”
In some states where evictions have been allowed to continue, some counties, towns and cities have issued their own eviction bans.
Yet a patchwork of protections is not effective at keeping people in their homes during a pandemic, housing advocates say.
For example, even though Texas resident Jennifer Baird should have been protected by moratoriums issued by Travis County and the City of Austin, her landlord moved to evict her this month. The statewide eviction ban in Texas lapsed in May.
“It’s extremely scary,” Baird, 37, said. Her income as a dog sitter and real estate agent has dried up, and now she’s worried about living in a shelter and using public restrooms during the pandemic.
“At least in my house, I can protect myself,” Baird said. “If I’m out, I don’t know what I’m going to have to deal with that could put my health at risk.”
Baird’s case demonstrates why Congress needs to come up with a national solution to the impending eviction crisis in the U.S., said Keegan Warren-Clem, managing attorney at the Texas Legal Services Center.
“Right now, eviction protections exist piecemeal, and stressed landlords may try to use state laws that are inconsistent with public health best practices to get around local laws that prioritize the public health,” Warren-Clem said.
And even in states where there are eviction moratoriums, the protections vary.
For example, Arizona has a moratorium in place until Oct. 31, but it only prevents the execution of evictions, or the final step in which a tenant is forced to leave their home. In the meantime, landlords can still file the proceedings in court, and more than 9,000 have already done so in Phoenix alone, according to The Eviction Lab. (Tenants also have to prove that their non-payment is due to a pandemic-related hardship.)
“When the moratorium is lifted, it’s just a matter of time until the sheriff puts families on the street,” Benfer said.
This week, the United Nations urged countries to allow people to stay in their homes throughout the crisis.
“Temporary bans in many countries have ended or are coming to an end, and this raises serious concerns that a tsunami of evictions may follow,” said Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to housing, in a statement.
He didn’t mince words: “Losing your home during this pandemic could mean losing your life.”