How can the U.S. prevent an eviction crisis?

Julia Munslow
·Editor

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The nationwide moratorium on evictions for federally backed housing expired last week, leaving millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

With the expiration of the CARES Act, millions are without housing protections and without the extra $600 in unemployment benefits. Local eviction moratoriums have also expired in more than 30 states.

Experts are warning that the U.S. is facing a housing crisis at the levels of the 2008 recession. Up to 40 million Americans may face evictions in the next several months, and the crisis is forecast to hit hardest in communities of color, especially for women.

Without a solution, America is staring down a potential catastrophe where millions of renters are unable to pay rent and landlords can’t pay mortgages, which could lead to an increase in homelessness — all happening ahead of what Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield predicts would be “one of the most difficult” winters in American public health.

President Trump has pushed for a bipartisan solution to the eviction crisis and said last week that he supports temporarily halting evictions for those who have lost their jobs during the health crisis.

Why there’s debate

Renters, activists and landlords agree that something must be done to prevent a larger crisis, but there’s debate about the best solution.

Some advocate for a nationwide moratorium on evictions. Forcing someone out of their home is especially harmful during a pandemic, experts say. When people are evicted, they are likely to move in with relatives, which may mean overcrowding, or live on the streets. Crowded and unstable living conditions could spread the virus and exacerbate the health crisis.

Others call for direct government assistance for renters who can’t pay their landlords. While some believe this aid should be paired with a nationwide moratorium to help renters, another group says there should only be cash payments, arguing that it would help stimulate the U.S. economy. There are also calls to cancel rent, with some saying that this alone would quickly and effectively prevent a homelessness crisis.

But there are also arguments against any kind of eviction moratorium. Critics say that eviction moratoriums can harm landlords, especially smaller “mom-and-pop” owners who pay multiple property bills. A moratorium would exacerbate the affordable-housing crisis, others say, arguing that it reduces the number of affordable units available.

Finally, there are those who believe that eviction court procedures need to be reformed. The courts weren’t designed for a pandemic, and everyone going through an eviction court process should get the right to an attorney, they say.

What’s next

Congress remains deadlocked on a new coronavirus stimulus package. Until a new deal is struck, renters will have to follow their state’s laws regarding evictions. Legislation for relief for renters and homeowners is being pushed in Congress by several members, but has yet to pass.

Perspectives

Evictions will lead to the spread of the coronavirus

“In the middle of a pandemic, evictions are more dangerous still, disrupting a family’s ability to shelter-in-place and practice social distancing. Evictions force families to seek new housing and crowd into relatives’ homes. Some will become homeless, piling onto the humanitarian emergency of shelters and encampments that cannot meet quarantine and social distancing requirements.” — Michelle Wilde Anderson and Shamus Roller, The Hill

Impose a nationwide moratorium on evictions and give rental assistance

“The immediate need is for Congress to impose a nationwide moratorium on evictions and then to give people who have lost their jobs the money required for rent or mortgage payments." — Editorial, The New York Times

Instead of an eviction moratorium, we need federal aid

“Halting evictions may sound good on paper, but it risks exacerbating the pandemic’s local economic impacts in unforeseen ways. Instead, the federal government must step into its role as the lender of last resort through loans, grants, and direct cash payments.” — Jenny Schuetz, Brookings

Cancel rent to prevent mass homelessness

“As coronavirus continues to ravage both the economy and our health, the housing crisis will continue to worsen. Canceling rent provides the most effective way to immediately stop the boiling homelessness catastrophe from scorching the United States, leaving scars that will be felt by a generation of Americans.” — Cory Gunkel, New York Daily News

Eviction moratoriums hurt small ‘mom-and-pop’ landlords

“While such policies were issued in good faith — they were designed to protect renters who have lost their incomes from losing the roofs over their heads, too — they have leveled a crushing blow to small, independent landlords ... who rely on a handful of rental units for their livelihoods.” — Abby Vesoulis, Time

Eviction moratoriums lead to unaffordable housing

“But even folks who could care less about the fate of landlords — big or small — should care about another side effect of the moratoriums: the way they are reducing the amount of affordable housing. You can be in favor of creating more affordable housing, or you can be in favor of an eviction moratorium. But you can’t have both.” — Peter Vickery, Boston Herald

Reform eviction court procedures

“Tenants who go through eviction court not only could lose their homes, but the final judgment also becomes a black mark on their credit reports, making it more difficult for them to obtain safe and affordable housing in the future. The current court process is not designed to account for these consequences, especially on the mass scale resulting from the pandemic. And with a few exceptions, most states have not adjusted or modified the process to make it easier for tenants to maintain their homes.” — Kathryn Ramsey Mason, the Conversation

Anyone facing evictions should have the right to an attorney

“Once evictions resume, a national right to counsel for low- and moderate-income families facing eviction due to the pandemic would likely go a long way toward preventing eviction across the country.” — Ray Brescia, The Hill

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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images