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Millions of Americans face pandemic-induced eviction

An estimated 30-40 million Americans are at risk of losing their homes by the end of the year
according to a study conducted by the Aspen Institute. Federal financial support from the CARES Act expired at the end of July, which put more Americans back at risk of eviction due to COVID-19 related complications. Even as parts of the U.S. are slowly lifting their stay at home orders, many jobs people held before the pandemic no longer exist. As of August, the unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, more than double what it was at the start of the year. Coronavirus cases across the country continue to rise, and with that, more Americans require further financial support to continue making rent payments.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been question of whether landlords have the
authority to evict tenants who can no longer pay their rent. Sudden economic upheaval and
widespread unemployment has created a new housing crisis. In March, as the whole country
had eyes on New York City, Governor Cuomo issued a ban on evictions for 90 days and has since extended the deadline. This set a precedent for the rest of the country as hotspots began to appear across the U.S. Except, many states did not follow their example despite tenants being unable to pay rent. Less than 30 states issued an eviction moratorium. In April, the NMHC found that at least 25 percent of renters needed financial assistance when it came to paying their rent. Since then, the numbers have grown. The federal government’s inaction has played a critical part in the number of displaced Americans and their increased risk of infection.

Although the CDC gives recommendations for protecting oneself from infection in public
spaces, the surest way to avoid infection is to stay home. Housing insecurity and the looming threat of dislocation are putting Americans at a health risk and preventing them from safely social distancing. Now, as cases are reaching frightening highs, Americans look to government officials for support. Landlords with tenants who cannot pay rent and are protected by government-issued policies are not receiving much, if any, financial compensation or assistance. This makes some eviction bans ineffectual for landlords who rely on rent payments as their source of income. The loss of jobs and lack of financial support have had a domino effect within the real estate industry, specifically among renters. Landlords cannot be entirely to blame for evictions when they’re in unstable financial situations similar to their tenants.

The threat of mass evictions and the evictions that already occurred during the pandemic are not solely a financial issue. Lack of reliable housing puts Americans at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Demographical data released in May reveals startling statistics about the racial disparities in confirmed cases throughout the country. The root cause of this is systemic and involves wealth gaps, high unemployment rates, limited healthcare access and greater rates of housing instability. While many of these systemic causes require a long-time solution, unemployment benefits paired with efficacious eviction bans that aid the renter and the landlord could directly affect these disparities. There has always been unequal access to affordable housing, and white Americans are statistically more likely to be homeowners compared to Black Americans, who are more likely to rent. Recently, renters are the ones that are becoming susceptible to evictions, meaning already vulnerable people face more significant risks. According to a study done by Public Integrity, two-thirds of evictions that have already transpired in the past six months occurred in neighborhoods with a high minority population.

To combat these evictions, the CDC placed a nationwide ban on evictions until Dec. 31,
2020. Except, it does not apply to every tenant. Specific qualifications must be met. To qualify,
renters must make less than a fixed amount, actively attempt to get government assistance, be financially affected by the pandemic somehow, and continue to make partial rent payments. Additionally, these conditions will end come 2021, and renters are required to eventually pay in full. While this declaration moves in the right direction, many have questioned the CDC’s authority to do it.

Similarly, it does not address the lack of renters’ assistance. The intention behind the declaration is to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. It does not address the underlying issue: lack of federal aid. Such bans prevent some evictions but disregard some small-time landlords who may not receive rent payments for three quarters of the 2020 calendar year.

The same day the CDC issued an eviction moratorium, Harris County’s Constable office
processed 200two hundred evictions in only one of Houston’s eight precincts. People
relied on the $600 a week they received from the CARES Act for rent payments. If the federal
government does not decide on a substantial stimulus package, more renters will face eviction. More importantly, already vulnerable minorities will be displaced which may worsen the racial disparities among COVID-19 cases within the US.

As the country goes into its seventh week without any individual financial aid, Congress
continues to make the pandemic a partisan issue. Meanwhile, the virus expeditiously moves
throughout the country and leaves millions of Americans on the brink of eviction. Instead of arguing about whether they are giving too much or too little financial support, the federal government needs to act now and amend later. No American should have to worry about losing their housing and risk their lives amidst a pandemic when the government has the means to provide financial aid.

Post Author: Sarah Berno