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No shelter from COVID-19 storm: 28 million American renters face evictions

B 1436 would restirct negative credit history

Sunita Sohrabji EMS Contributor | 7/30/2020, midnight

An estimated 28 million renters in the U.S. are facing evictions over the next three months, as states begin lifting their COVID-19 related eviction moratoriums.

In April, most U.S. states imposed some manner of lockdown to control the spread of the virus, restricting most workers to their homes. Unemployment rates shot to 14.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than one-third of renters did not pay their rent that month, according to data from the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Many states enacted eviction moratoriums, banning landlords from evicting a tenant due to non-payment of rent. But as those moratoriums expire in August, 20 to 28 million renters are facing evictions, said Emily Benfer, visiting professor and director of the Health Justice Clinic at Wake Forest School of Law and co-creator of the COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

The Congressional CARES Act, which provides 120 days of eviction relief for tenants in federally-backed housing, is set to expire July 25.

“Fifty million renters today live in households that suffered COVID-19 related job loss or income loss. And 40 percent of that occurred in especially low income households,” said Benfer at a July 17 briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services.

Black and Latino renters - who have disproportionately experienced COVID-19 job losses and deaths - are at highest risk for being unable to pay their rents, said Benfer.

Children are severely hit by evictions, Kushel said, noting that an abrupt loss of home can lead to disruptions in education and resulting mental health issues.

Kushel predicted there would be a 20 to 40 percent rise in homelessness as eviction moratoriums are lifted. She acknowledged state and federal efforts focused on people currently experiencing homelessness such as California’s Project Homekey, a $600 million state initiative to buy hotels and motels to house un-sheltered people.

“But this will be a drop in the bucket for people who are currently experiencing homelessness and will not address the new inflows into homelessness,” she cautioned, adding that permanent solutions require a dramatic increase in the number of affordable housing units, along with an expansion of rental support.

California is home to about 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population, with more than 150,000 people experiencing homelessness, according to 2018 data from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. 45 percent of California’s residents are renters.

On July 1, California Governor Gavin Newsom extended the state’s eviction moratorium to Sept. 30.

WCLP is co-sponsoring AB 1436 in the California State Legislature, which would create a process for tenants to pay back owed rent, and allow landlords to pursue unpaid rent via civil actions rather than evictions. The bill would also restrict negative impacts to a renter’s credit history after being served an eviction notice.

“We’ve talked about the eviction crisis as a tsunami, and that metaphor is intended to capture the magnitude of the crisis, but this is not a natural disaster. It’s a disaster of our own making. To prevent it, we need to advocate for meaningful governmental intervention,” said Vyas.