More than 11 million Americans are behind on their rent and many could be pushed from their homes when the national eviction ban expires in June.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium, which has been in effect since September, will lift on June 30. Although the policy has been far from perfect at keeping renters housed, it’s reduced the normal number of eviction filings over the same time period by at least a half, according to Peter Hepburn, a research fellow at The Eviction Lab.
Experts say the number of evictions could skyrocket when the ban lifts. Around 15% of adult renters are not current on their housing payments, according to an analysis by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
“We’re going to see what we’ve been managing to stave off: this wave of evictions that is just going to crush some of these areas,” said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.
The CDC’s eviction moratorium has faced numerous legal challenges and landlords have criticized the policy, saying they can’t afford to house people for free or shoulder the country’s massive rental arrears, which could be as high as $70 billion.
Yet housing advocates say the ban is lifting at a terrible time for both property owners and tenants, with states still scrambling to distribute the $45 billion in rental assistance allocated by Congress to address the crisis. (That funding is unprecedented: Renters were given just $1.5 billion during the Great Recession, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.)
“We need to let this moratorium stay in place until we spend all this money,” said Mark Melton, a lawyer who has been representing tenants facing eviction pro bono in Dallas.
“If you bail out the renter, that means you bailed out the landlord,” he said.
Heather Jordan has been approved for rental assistance in Missouri, but it could take weeks for the money to reach her landlord, who has already moved to evict her.
“If you’ve got the moratorium in place, it allows you the time to get the landlord paid,” said Jordan, 48, who fell behind on her $1,475 rent after she lost her sales job shortly before the pandemic. Her wife is disabled and can’t work.
If she and her family, including her wife, two children and two grandchildren, are evicted from their house in St. Louis, she doesn’t know where they’ll go. She’s lived there for nine years, and finding a landlord to rent to her with an eviction on her record will be difficult.
“We will be homeless,” she said.
Who’s at risk?
Eviction rates will likely be higher in some states than others.
For example, nearly 1 in 4 renters are behind on their housing payments in Florida and South Carolina, compared with 6% in Maine and Kentucky, according to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Alicia Mazzara, a senior research analyst on the housing policy team at the CBPP, said there were multiple reasons for those disparities.
“Some states already faced greater housing affordability problems before the pandemic,” she said.
“Another likely factor would be the state’s economy – for example, we know that the pandemic has caused job losses to be very concentrated in the restaurant and hospitality sector,” Mazzara added. “Jobs most affected by the pandemic may make up a larger share of some state economies than others.”
Across the country, Black renters are nearly four times as likely to be behind on their rent than white renters.
“The pandemic has exacerbated racial inequities,” Mazzara said.
Households with lower incomes also report more problems paying their rent. “Anyone who before the pandemic was living paycheck-to-paycheck is going to be vulnerable,” Pollock said.
Older Americans are yet another vulnerable group.
According to one recent count, more than 100,000 people over the age of 65 said they expected to be evicted within the next two months. Almost 450,000 renters between the ages of 55 and 64 said the same.