Massive Eviction and Homelessness Crisis Looming in US

The COVID-19 crisis has killed over 686,000, including more than 153,700 in the United States. Alongside this tragic statistic another crisis is playing out: economic devastation, lost jobs and looming homelessness and poverty including in developed countries such as the US. A recent story from Annie Nova at CNBC paints an alarming picture of an upcoming eviction and homelessness crisis.

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was made law in April and put a pause on any evictions for those who have federally-backed mortgages and are living in government-assisted apartments and houses. Those protections ended on July 31.

As BBC noted, an “avalanche of evictions” is on its way for the USA.

The Coming Eviction Crisis

The resumption of evictions on those with federally-backed mortgages and government-assisted living is projected to hit about 30% of those renting in the US. Although the Trump Administration says it is working to once again hit the pause button on evictions, there is now a gap during which they can take place. This coincides with an end to $600 unemployment checks that also occurred at the end of July, impacting about 25 million citizens. The official US unemployment rate fell to 11.1% in June, down from its spike at 14.7% in April, but an estimated 33 million Americans were receiving unemployment checks as of June 20.

Nova’s article cites that up to 40 million Americans could face eviction during the coming months of the pandemic in an unprecedented crisis not seen since the Great Depression. By this October an estimated 23 million Americans could be out of a place to live. This includes in many major urban centers which are already bracing for a second wave and where homelessness and housing insecurity will increase the risk of more spread of the virus. From 2000 to 2016 there were approximately one million evictions per year in the US, which is already a very high number. A jump to 23 million in one year would be intensely disruptive economically and socially.

As Aimee Picchi noted for CBS, “a surge in homelessness also could raise the risk of infection because evicted families often double up with relatives and friends, stay in shelters or end up on the street.”

Who Will Be Hardest Hit?

States have widely varying projected evictions, with states like California readying for a “tsunami of evictions.” Fully 58% of renters in Tennessee at risk of eviction but only 27% in Massachusetts and 22% in Vermont, for example. Still, even in Vermont and Massachusetts these numbers are extremely high and the economic and social fallout of even one-third as many people losing housing as experts are projecting would be unprecedented. Furthermore, around 70% of renters not protected by CARES will also be potentially vulnerable to losing a roof over their heads if they can’t find a way to come up with money and lose work or their income. Nine states, including Missouri, never adopted the CARES restrictions and have also still been allowing local courts to decide on evictions.

Furthermore, despite the moratorium on eviction under the CARES act in most states, many landlords — who are also in many cases struggling from the economic impact of COVID-19 — have been moving forward with the court cases and legal process to evict tenants during the moratorium and thus will be able to kick tenants out more rapidly now that enforcement and finalization of court orders is once again possible. Milwaukee, Wisconsin has already seen a 37% increase in evictions compared to last year.

People of color, Hispanics and lower-income Americans are projected to be hardest hit by the coming evictions and even if the extension is put back in rapidly by the government many of these renters and those holding federally-backed mortgages are at long-term risk of housing insecurity, severe poverty and eventual homelessness as the pandemic and its effects continues to create a vicious cycle. African Americans, many of whose communities have already been swept up in political unrest following the killing of George Floyd will be the most demographic group which will be most severely impacted by evictions, particularly black single mothers.

The coronavirus has already crushed huge swathes of the middle class and service sector in the US: adding in mass eviction just makes the nightmare even starker. There is also the real possibility that a wave of evictions could worsen the ongoing financial crisis in even more “catastrophic” ways that would affect the real estate sector and economy as a whole. If this challenge is not adequately addressed it could make the 2008 economic crisis look like a cakewalk.

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy Ananya Roy put it even more bluntly: “This will be worse than the Great Depression.”

Stories of Struggle

Eviction courts generally lean towards the interests and legal advantage of landlords. The stories of struggle and eviction emerging from the US are heart-wrenching, such as that of Jade Brooks from Boston who is facing eviction along with her mom and young cousin who she lives with. Her mom lost her job due to the pandemic and Brooks says she is “completely scared” about homelessness and eviction for herself and her loved ones.

Another example is Chris Hammond, an 18-year-old teenager who lives with his mom in Hampshire, Illinois. Despite starting a GoFundMe page to raise money for rent, Hammond lost his job months ago and his mom works for minimum wage. They have an aunt they can possibly stay with if they’re kicked out but otherwise would be staying in a homeless shelter.

The legal process for eviction requires a notice, lawsuit, hearing, court order and finalization of the order by law enforcement. Tenants who have been ordered to leave their residence by a court will receive a notice informing them that law enforcement will escort them and their belongings out if they don’t leave in a matter of days.The whole process can go as fast as several weeks or as long as three to four months depending on the state and the backlog of cases in the system. In some cases landlords will just change locks to evict a tenant or another strategy is to do loud construction in the building to make it untenable to continue living there or getting any sleep (a “renoviction.”)

What Can People Facing Eviction Do About It?

There is not an enormous amount that those facing eviction can do about it, however, there are some approaches that can be helpful. There are some local protections for renters that have been put in place that can help renters know their rights available online (takes a moment to load) as well as resources for where to stay if you no longer have a place to live. In certain states like Arizona, Delaware, Montana, Ohio, Iowa and New York there are also relief funds available to people on the state level to help get assistance to pay rent which can be a temporary help. Those facing eviction are encouraged to get a lawyer if possible, including sometimes with no cost. No matter what, those facing eviction should always do everything possible to show up for their hearing: if not they automatically lose.

The Bottom Line

The US Census Bureau already estimated in 2018 that 40.6% of renters were paying 35% or more of their monthly income on rent and one quarter of US households in 2018 were spending half or more of their monthly income on housing. Many of those having trouble paying for rent also have to cut down on food or food quality, leading over the long-term to negative health impacts including for those who may not have sufficient healthcare cover or any at all. The pandemic and mass job loss that has now occurred has put a strain on those numbers that is not supportable. Stagnant wages meeting steadily rising rental rates and widespread job loss and economic disruption are a recipe for disaster. Mass evictions, transiency and homelessness — including likely spikes in crime and public disorder — are the obvious outcome of people who’ve lost a place to live and a stake in the future of society. Although increased federal intervention can offset some of the coming crisis, the effect of the coming eviction emergency is likely to be generational in scope and it will be necessary for entire communities, religious organizations and municipal governments to come together at the local level and care for the individuals around them in order to make a difference during these difficult times.