Millions of Americans are in danger of losing their homes when federal and local limits on evictions expire at the end of the year, a growing body of research shows.
A report issued this month from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the University of Arizona estimates that 6.7 million households could be evicted in the coming months. That amounts to 19 million people potentially losing their homes, rivaling the dislocation that foreclosures caused after the subprime housing bust.
Apart from being a humanitarian disaster, the crisis threatens to exacerbate the coronavirus pandemic, according to a forthcoming study in the Journal of Urban Health.
“Our concern is we’re going to see a huge increase in evictions after the CDC moratorium is lifted,” said Andrew Aurand, vice president of research at the NLIHC and a co-author of the report.
The number of Americans struggling to pay rent has steadily risen since this summer, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. In the latest survey, from early November, 11.6 million people indicated they wouldn’t be able to pay the rent or mortgage next month.
Meanwhile, some renters who are still paying rent are relying on “unsustainable” income to make ends meet. Among those who report trouble making rent, “More than half are borrowing from family and friends to meet their spending needs, one-third are using credit cards, and one-third are spending down savings,” the NLIHC report found.
Approaching a “payment cliff”
In early September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention barred evictions through year-end, describing the move as a public health measure to reduce spread of the coronavirus. The CDC order protects renters earning less than $99,000 if they have lost income during the pandemic and are likely to become homeless if they’re evicted.
Many states and cities also imposed renter protections during the spring and summer, and others established rental assistance programs to help tenants make ends meet. However, both types of programs are quickly expiring.
Once the CDC moratorium expires,Aurand said, “We expect to see a jump in [eviction] filings, and we know that even now, filings are already occurring. Come January, sadly, for a number of tenants, the next step is the landlord will evict them.”
The situation could reach crisis levels in the new year. With Congress yet to pass another coronavirus relief package, about 12 million Americans are set to lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, a sharp fall in income that would make it harder for many people to pay rent. An abrupt cutoff would slash income by about $19 billion per month, Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist at Oxford Economics, said in a research note.
Although the Trump Administration has restricted evictions for most households through the end of the year, it did not relieve renters of the need to pay rent. That means many renters may face a “payment cliff” at year’s end, when they must pay several months’ worth of back rent or face eviction.
“If renters are required to quickly repay past due rent or face eviction, the hardship will fall predominantly on lower-income families who have already been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis,” Vanden Houten wrote.
Said Aurand, “If you were a low-income renter before the pandemic and you were hit financially, even if your income starts to recover, you’re going to have a very hard time paying back that rental debt.”
“What we really need is rental assistance,” he noted. “The underlying problem is renters struggling to pay their rent because we’re in an economic crisis, and the moratorium doesn’t address that.”
Academics have also pushed for direct aid to renters and homeowners, citing the extreme economic fallout from the coronavirus and related shutdowns. In Los Angeles, where 1 in 5 renters were late on rent at some point this summer, residents are facing “an income crisis layered atop of a housing crisis,” researchers at the University of California – Los Angeles have said.
“Delivering assistance to renters now can not just stave off looming evictions, but also prevent quieter and longer-term problems that are no less serious, such as renters struggling to pay back credit card or other debt, struggling to manage a repayment plan, or emerging from the pandemic with little savings left,” they wrote in August report. “Renter assistance can also help the smaller landlords who are disproportionately seeing tenants unable to pay.”
A groundswell of evictions would cause enormous financial hardship. Losing a home is one of the most traumatic events a family can experience, with research showing that people who have experienced eviction are more likely to lose their jobs, fall ill or suffer from mental-health consequences. Children whose families are evicted are more likely to drop out of school, while evictions also contribute to the spread of COVID-19, according to a forthcoming study from UCLA viewed by “60 Minutes.“
“We’ve got a country that’s about to witness evictions like they’ve never witnessed before,” Laura Tucker, a social worker for Florida’s Hillsborough County School District, told “60 Minutes.”
“An eviction can impact a family’s ability to re-house for more than 10 years,” she said.
For that reason, housing and public health experts have said that rental aid now
“Now is the time for action to provide emergency rental assistance. A failure to do so will result in millions of renters spiraling deeper into debt and housing poverty, while public costs and public health risks of eviction-related homelessness increase,” the NLIHC report says. “These outcomes are preventable.”