With the US federal eviction moratorium ending on Saturday, millions of Americans could be forced to vacate their homes amid concerns of a rapidly spreading, highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19.
On Thursday, the Biden administration announced it would not renew the nationwide ban. Though some Democratic lawmakers expressed a desire to extend it due to rising infections, they claimed their hands were tied after a June Supreme Court ruling. Congressional action was the only way to extend the ban. House Representatives failed Friday to extend the moratorium.
"August is going to be a rough month because a lot of people will be displaced from their homes," said Jeffrey Hearne, director of litigation Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. "It will be at numbers we haven’t seen before. There are a lot of people who are protected by the ... moratorium."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally placed the moratorium last September to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They are credited with keeping 2 million Americans situated in their residences the past year, according to AP News.
Despite a failed federal extension, eviction moratoriums will remain in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, California and Washington, DC, until they expire later this year. In other states, evictions could begin as early as Monday, with concerns that a years’ worth of evictions over several weeks could usher the worst housing crisis in a decade.
The Aspen Institute said that over 15 million Americans live in households that owe a total of $20 billion to their landlords. States with weaker tenant protections will likely be the hardest hit. As of July 5, about 3.6 million people face eviction in the coming two months, found the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Advocates argue the impacts will be wider felt compared to pre-pandemic evictions. Working suburban and rural families who lost their jobs because of COVID-19 and who never before experienced an eviction are also put at risk by the failed moratorium extension.
They expressed concerns that tenants would be forced into a red-hot housing market characterized by rising prices and lower vacancy rates with few options at their disposal. Millions of Americans also face the troubles associated with eviction records, rent still owed, and other debt.
Communities where residents face many evictions are likely to pass the bill onto taxpayers, found one study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Innovation for Justice Program at the University of Arizona. They found costs could reach $129 billion from pandemic-related evictions to providing social services, health care and homeless services to those affected.
"I know personally many of the people evicted are people who worked before, who never had issues," said Kristen Randall, a constable in Pima County, Arizona, who is responsible for carrying out evictions starting Monday. "We are going to see a higher proportion of people go to the streets than we normally see. That is unfortunate."
"These are people who already tried to find new housing, a new apartment or move in with families," she said. "I know quite a few of them plan on staying in their cars or are looking at trying to make reservations at local shelters. But because of the pandemic, our shelter space has been more limited."
When the first foreclosure proceedings begin in September, an estimated 1.75 million homeowners — roughly 3.5 percent of all homes — will be in a forbearance plan with their banks, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. During the Great Recession, about 10 million homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure. While some states will see an eviction spike early next week, other jurisdictions will see more court filings that will lead to evictions over several months.
The Biden administration hoped historic amounts of rental assistance allocated by Congress in December and March would avert an eviction crisis. So far, only $3 billion of $25 billion has been distributed through June by states and localities. Another $21.5 billion will go to the states.
Though the speed of disbursement increased in June, some states like New York have distributed almost nothing to date. Several others have only approved a few million dollars.
"We are on the brink of catastrophic levels of housing displacement across the country that will only increase the immediate threat to public health," said Emily Benfer, a law professor at Wake Forest University and the chair of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Eviction, Housing Stability and Equity.
"It’s almost unfathomable. We are on the precipice of a nationwide eviction crisis that is entirely preventable with more time to distribute rental assistance," said Benfer.
"The eviction moratorium is the only thing standing between millions of tenants and eviction while rental assistance applications are pending. When that essential public health tool ends on Saturday, just as the delta variant surges, the situation will become dire."