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

(Source: AP Photos)

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:

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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