The rent has come due again amid another spike in COVID-19 cases and millions of families can’t afford to pay. According to the latest Census data, 1 in 4 renter families with children are behind on the rent. The only thing standing between these families and eviction is the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) temporary eviction moratorium, which took effect in September and is set to expire at the end of the year.
If the eviction moratorium is not extended by the CDC before the year’s end and does not include some changes to the existing language to ensure more families are covered, 30 to 40 million renters are at risk of losing their home. The CDC must also make changes to the current order to address the burdensome requirements it places on families and to ensure it more adequately protects the nation’s renters, as we wrote earlier this year. More specifically, the current CDC order requires families to fill out confusing forms, jump through administrative hoops, and affirmatively prove they are needy enough to qualify. The moratorium has also been applied inconsistently across the country and has allowed landlords to pre-file thousands of eviction claims that will flood the courts as soon as the ban is lifted at the end of this month.
The CDC moratorium failed to protect Tawanda Mormon, a 46-year-old woman from Cleveland who was hospitalized in August with COVID-19 and couldn’t work. She fell behind on her rent because the little money she had left went to pay for food. She was evicted in October, simply because she hadn’t submitted the paperwork required for protection under the current moratorium, a requirement Mormon didn’t know existed.
Tawanda’s story is not an anomaly. Millions of families are at risk of eviction without swift and robust action from the CDC or Congress. Without improvement and extension of the moratorium by the CDC, or action from Congress with robust rent relief and an eviction moratorium as well, millions of families will be forced from their homes in the dead of winter during the worst pandemic in a century. Unfortunately, neither of the COVID-19 relief proposals offered this week by Mitch McConnell and a bipartisan group of legislators respectively include an extended eviction moratorium.
The harm caused by a wave of evictions would be unimaginable; even in normal times, housing instability and eviction cause serious harm to children, including long-term detrimental health, social, and economic consequences. Children in families that face eviction are also more likely to come in contact with the child welfare and youth justice systems.
The stakes are even higher for families and children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of allowing a wave of evictions to move forward should ultimately be measured in lives lost. According to new research led by Kathryn Leifheit of UCLA, evictions that took place between the beginning of the pandemic and the CDC’s national eviction moratorium in September “led to 433,700 excess COVID-19 cases and 10,700 additional deaths.” Thousands of families kicked out of their homes during an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases would surely lead to an entirely unnecessary spike in illness and death.
Such a wave of evictions would disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic communities that have already been hit the hardest economically and physically during the pandemic. According to the UCLA study, Black and Hispanic tenants are most likely to be evicted. After an eviction, people often move in temporarily with family or friends or enter the shelter system, which increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission. When children and families are evicted from their homes, it not only puts their loved ones at risk, but our communities and society overall.
To prevent this litany of disastrous outcomes, we need an extension and expansion of the eviction ban as well as substantial rent relief from Congress. By the time the rent comes due in January, renters will owe close to $70 billion in unpaid rent. That’s about “$5,400 for the typical family that has fallen behind.”
While that’s a substantial chunk of money for a Congress that is skittish about spending as of late, failing to act immediately will ultimately cost more than proactive rent relief, because the costs associated with a wave of evictions are so high. Emergency shelter, inpatient medical care, emergency medical care, and foster care for evicted renters who become homeless will cost as much as $129 billion, according to a study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Innovation for Justice project.
Short-term relief is just the beginning, however. The pandemic has exposed the country’s deeper long-term affordable housing crisis; before the pandemic, a quarter of tenants were spending more than half their income on rent, leaving little to “cover medical bills or school books, much less to set aside for retirement, their kids’ education or a down payment on a home.” This crisis necessitates a broader response: significant expansion of the underfunded housing voucher program, broad new investment in the creation of affordable housing nationwide, and a robust emergency rental program for tenants facing eviction as a result of a sudden financial shock. To read our list of COVID-19 relief asks for children and families, click here. To see our list of long-term housing priorities, click here.