An ‘avalanche of evictions’ could weigh on US tenants
EUCLID, Ohio – The United States, already in the throes of an economic collapse not seen for a generation, faces a wave of evictions as government relief payments and legal protections run out for millions of unemployed Americans who have little financial cushion and little choice when looking for new housing.
Hardest hit are tenants who had low incomes and little savings even before the pandemic, and whose housing costs have soared more on their paychecks. They were also more likely to work in industries where job losses were particularly severe.
Temporary government aid has helped, as have government orders that suspend evictions in many cities. But evictions will soon be allowed in about half of the states, according to Emily A. Benfer, housing expert and associate professor at Columbia Law School, which tracks eviction policies.
“I think we will get into a serious tenant crisis and very quickly,” Prof Benfer said. Without a new round of government intervention, she added, “we will have an avalanche of evictions across the country.”
This means that more and more families could soon suffer the dreaded eviction notice on the front door, the beating that plagues your stomachs from the sheriff’s deputies, the belongings piled up on the sidewalk. They will face displacement at a time when people are still pressured to stay at home to protect themselves and their communities, with the death toll from the virus now have exceeded 100,000 in the United States.
This fear of eviction has plagued Sandy Naffah since she lost her income as the virus led to economic shutdowns. Ms Naffah, who had juggled two part-time jobs – teaching elementary students to read and working as a beauty consultant in a mall – quickly fell behind on the $ 800 she pays in rent each month for a One bedroom apartment in Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.
She now looks to a precarious future, desperately hoping that a one-time federal stimulus check and unemployment benefits – which she said she had not yet collected – will keep her afloat and avoid deportation.
“It’s a ticking clock,” said Ms. Naffah, who is in her 50s. “I cannot continue on this path, otherwise I will be on the street.”
In many places the threat has already started. The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled that evictions could begin again in the country’s second largest state. In the Oklahoma City area, the sheriffs announced by apologies that they were planning to start enforcing eviction notices this week. And a handful of states, like Ohio, had little statewide protections in place to begin with, leaving residents particularly vulnerable as eviction cases piled up or progressed during the pandemic. .
Christie Wilson, 37, was one of them. After escaping a dangerous relationship, she said, she spent several months sleeping in her car last year before a veterans program helped her pay for a two-bedroom apartment in Decatur, Georgia. She had recently become responsible for the rent of $ 1,143 per month. herself, she said, and had lined up a job in a warehouse.
But after two days on the job, she said, she was fired as the coronavirus outbreak escalated in March.
A few weeks later, she found an eviction notice on her doorstep. She now fears losing her apartment, where, in the fragile stability of recent months, she has enjoyed little luxuries, such as listening to gospel music on her terrace in the morning and spending Mother’s Day in her own house with her son. teenager.
The real estate company running her apartment said it followed eviction request protocol and employees were working with Ms Wilson to waive the fees and help her connect with non-profit groups. If she has to move, she fears ending up in a homeless shelter, where preliminary tests have shown high infection rates.
“There wouldn’t be a six-foot distance – we’d be sleeping on top of each other,” said Wilson, who is racing to pay off more than $ 2,000 in arrears in rent before Georgia courts reopen on next month.
Although about 90% of tenants made full or partial rent payments by the end of May, down just 2 percent since last year, lawyers and homeowners fear the trend may not last. Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March, including a high proportion of people living in households earning less than $ 40,000 a year. In one survey released this month by the Census Bureau, nearly a quarter of those polled said they missed their last rent or mortgage payment or had little or no confidence that they could pay on time next month.
The devastation has drawn comparisons to the Great Recession, when millions of people lost their homes during a foreclosure crisis. But this time around, tenants will likely be on the front lines.
“We kind of expect this to be more of a tenant crisis than a homeownership crisis,” said Elora Lee Raymond, assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who focuses on affordable housing and real estate.
Even before the current unemployment crisis, evictions were extremely common in American life. Researchers estimate that around 3.7 million deportation cases were filed in 2016, a year when the unemployment rate was 4.7%.
“Now we have 14.7 percent,” said Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Princeton and author of the book “Evicted,” who is leading an effort at the university’s eviction lab to track cases at scale. national. Without intervention, he said, “I don’t see how we wouldn’t have a wave of evictions.”
A $ 3 trillion coronavirus relief bill supported by House Democrats includes a proposal to spend $ 100 billion in housing assistance, a move that could bring overall relief, but Republicans have criticized the package as too expensive and it is unlikely that ‘it be adopted in its present form.
And some argue that the federal government has already intervened effectively, in the form of stimulus checks and a A weekly increase of $ 600 in unemployment Payments.
Many low-wage workers make more money from unemployment than they did when they worked, said Ken Rosen, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “This is happening, not through the housing system, but through the unemployment benefit system,” he said.
But there is a looming question as to what will happen next. “People may pay their rent, but at what cost?” said Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, an advocacy group in Kansas City, Missouri. “I know several people who take out securities loans. They pay their rent on their credit card. “
Many landlords say they are working with their tenants, waiving late fees and advocating that the government cover missed rents. “We are in uncharted waters,” said Tom Bannon, general manager of the California Apartment Association, who added that most owners were unwilling to evict residents when there were few guarantees of eviction. ‘a replacement.
Yet homeowners also have bills to pay. When tenants cannot pay their rent, mortgage owners remain accountable to the banks, which respond to investors. “I call it the chain of custody,” Bannon said. “There is that link, and if there is a break in the link, the ripple effect is quite large.”
Among the first to be expelled are those who were already struggling before the pandemic.
Stephen Jenkins, 64, was laid off from his assembly job in January, making it difficult to pay his monthly rent of $ 900 in Springfield, Ohio. By March, he said, his savings were depleted and he asked his landlord if he could pay late after his Social Security check.
Its owner, who declined to comment, requested the eviction.
In the weeks that followed, Mr Jenkins said, his wife lost her job as a hostess at Bob Evans when restaurants closed. They were unable to move because few real estate agents are showing homes because of the virus.
Stress gives him health problems and he anxiously counts the days until his deportation hearing, now scheduled for Wednesday.
“I haven’t slept a night since March,” he says. “I wake up at three or four in the morning, worried about what will happen tomorrow.”