Cities brace for the next COVID crisis: a crippling wave of evictions

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Even as the coronavirus surges in many parts of the U.S., mayors are facing another ticking time bomb that’s about to explode: a crippling wave of evictions.

In the coming months, 16 million renter households in the U.S. are at risk for eviction, according to a new eviction estimation tool developed by the Stout global advisory firm and the National Coalition for the Civil Right to Counsel. State and local eviction moratoriums are beginning to lapse — as of the end of last week, courts in at least 39 states had begun accepting eviction lawsuits. Meanwhile, a federal eviction moratorium, which covers federally subsidized housing and properties with mortgages covered by such governmental enterprises and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, expires on Friday.

The prospect of this boom in evictions has many mayors looking to extend their own eviction bans—and appealing to state and federal officials for help. “There’s been a lot of heterogeneity at the local level and at the state level,” said Peter Hepburn, an analyst at the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. “Eviction proceedings by and large stopped around March 15 across the country and that held through April and much of May. Over the last couple of months, local and state protections have been pulled back and it’s been up to counties and cities to take additional actions to help renters.”

Housing advocates point to Milwaukee as an example of what could happen in cities when moratoriums lapse.

After its eviction ban ended in late May, Milwaukee saw 1,447 eviction cases filed in June, according to Eviction Lab — that’s 17 percent above the city’s usual average. Hepburn said Houston /Harris County in Texas also has seen a marked increase since its eviction moratorium lapsed in May. Harris County had about 600 eviction filings in April, another 1,200 in May, and then about 2,500 in June. While that’s well below the county’s typical number of eviction filings, the uptick is happening while many renters are receiving emergency federal aid, including $600 in additional unemployment benefits that vanish at the end of this month.

[Read: COVID-19 and the homeless: How cities can turn temporary measures into permanent gains]

Evictions nationwide also disproportionately impact communities of color — including people already grappling with higher rates of coronavirus infection, hospitalization, and death. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey, about 43 percent of Latino renters and 41 percent of Black renters said they had “no confidence” or only “slight confidence” that they could pay their rent next month, compared to about 21 percent of white renters.

“These are extraordinary times, and right now, we all need to come together to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable residents are able to continue to live and work in the city they call home,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said earlier this month as he announced that the Boston Housing Authority would extend its ban on most evictions until the end of the year. “Our public housing communities are a critical and irreplaceable piece of the fabric of our city, and we want to make sure they are supported during these difficult times.”

Other mayors are taking similar actions, which Hepburn said largely either extend existing eviction moratoriums or provide additional financial relief for renters and landlords:

  • As a four-month state moratorium on evictions was set to expire last week, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced $11 million in new resources for people who have fallen behind on their rent. “We do not want folks displaced from homes if we can help it,” he said.
  • Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an executive order last Thursday extending the city’s coronavirus pandemic relief policies and a ban on evictions through Aug. 1.
  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has extended an executive order that temporarily halts residential evictions and filings until the end of August.
  • Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal to require landlords in many cases to give tenants more notice before not renewing leases is expected to go to the full city council this week.
  • Los Angeles last week announced its Emergency Renters Assistance Program, which will provide a total of $103 million in assistance to renters in the form of temporary subsidies of up to $2,000 per household. In order to qualify, renters of multifamily units must show how COVID-19 has affected them financially and earn less than 80 percent of the area median income — for example, $83,500 for a family of four.
  • St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson announced last week that applications are now being accepted for residents needing rental and mortgage assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Krewson said $5.4 million in federal CARES Act funds are being made available through a new program called St. Louis City CARES.
  • Baltimore is investing more than $15 million in helping residents who’ve lost income due to COVID-19 to pay rent.
  • Madison, Wis., Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway last week called for the federal government to extend unemployment benefits and for the state to extend a moratorium on utility shut-offs through April 2021.

In all, 44 states and 151 local governments have created or expanded rental assistance programs in response to COVID-19 and its economic fallout, according to a new analysis by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The coalition is calling on Congress to provide an additional $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to keep renters with low incomes housed. The House of Representatives’ HEROES Act, passed in May, would authorize a fund of that size, but the Senate is unlikely to agree to that amount and it remains unclear what level of additional support the federal government may yet provide.

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