Experts fear a wave of homelessness once eviction moratoriums end

Tourists pass by a homeless man sitting on Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, California on June 12, 2020.

Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

Eviction moratoriums nationwide are set to expire later this month, potentially thrusting tens of thousands of people into a housing crisis. 

Congress in March passed a federal mandate prohibiting evictions or foreclosures until July 24 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But as the deadline quickly approaches, experts warn that unless Congress passes more relief, renters might be forced out on the streets. 

Across the country, thousands of evictions are either pending or processing, possibly setting up a wave of newly homeless people in the next few months. The pandemic has pushed millions of Americans into unemployment, leaving many unable to keep up with monthly rent and food demands.

In Tucson, Arizona, the courts are processing an average of 52 eviction cases per day, up from the normal 10 to 30 cases, according to the Arizona Daily Star. In Tennessee, more than 9,000 eviction hearings are pending, about 33% more cases than normal for this time of year, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported

Homeless and housing services experts in New York are seeing signs that there will be a spike in the population of newly homeless people in the coming months. 

No concrete data yet exists that quantifies the number of newly homeless people nationally. But in New York, “we still anecdotally have seen some people become newly homeless due to informal evictions, particularly for people who did not have a formal lease in their name,” said Jacquelyn Simone, policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless.

Large numbers of these people “were paying week by week for room rentals and lost their source of income due to the pandemic. Many of those people have become newly homeless, because they might not have realized what their protections were.”

Calls for congressional relief

The CARES Act, which became law in late March, put a temporary pause on evictions and foreclosures as millions of Americans grapple with the economic turmoil brought on by the pandemic. That relief extends only to federally assisted properties.

From state to state, moratorium degrees vary widely. Some states, such as Connecticut, Washington, and New York, have put in place their own temporary bans on evictions that last into August, according to data compiled by the Eviction Lab, an organization based in Princeton University that’s dedicated to tracking eviction rates.

“The moment these moratoriums are lifted, we’ll see massive evictions,” said Emily Benfer, visiting associate clinical professor of law at Columbia Law School. 

The inconsistency has caught the attention of notable politicians, who argue that the federal moratorium has to be strengthened and extended for a longer period of time to ensure that people do not lose access to their homes. 

House Democrats on Monday passed a bill that would halt evictions and foreclosures through March 2021. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters of California, includes $100 billion allocated to rental assistance programs and a $75 billion relief fund for homeowners. The bill is not expected to pass the Senate, which is expected to reconvene on July 20 from its two-week Fourth of July recess.

Robert King Geiser, 35 years-old, after 2 years living on the street, stands outside his tent next to the 110 Freeway, during the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic in Los Angeles California on May 25, 2020.

Apu Gomes | AFP | Getty Images

“State and local eviction moratoriums are expiring rapidly and courts are beginning to address the backlog and new eviction cases,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, on a call with reporters Monday. “And they’re putting people out of their homes in the middle of a pandemic, and in places where Covid-19 is raging out of control.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also on Monday introduced a bill calling for a nationwide eviction moratorium that would last until March 2021. 

“This is a bill that protects renters from losing their housing,” Warren said on the call Monday.

“If they lose their job or have their hours cut during the crisis,” she said, “the bill extends the federal moratorium to last one year instead of just 120 days as it was. And it expands the moratorium to cover basically all renters. It also makes sure that renters don’t get hit with fees or penalties if they need a few extra months to pay their rent.”

‘A tsunami of evictions’

Across the country, homeless service experts are watching for signs that the number of newly homeless will spike once their state’s eviction moratorium ends. 

In New York, the number of single adult men checking themselves into homeless shelters has gone up on four nights in June, a period of time when “we would not be hitting new records” normally, Simone of the Coalition for the Homeless said. During other years, the single adult count in homeless shelters normally declined during this time. 

“Instead, we’re hitting new records for the single adults in shelters, and that’s just the shelters run by the Department of Homeless Services,” Simone added. “So I think it’s unusual to be seeing these trends and I am anticipating that we are going to continue seeing these trends as protections for people facing eviction expire.”

Additionally, the Coalition for the Homeless has received an influx of people calling in to ask about shelter access in New York City, questions that people who are new to the homeless services system might ask, Simone said.

These indicators are among what have prompted nonprofits and advocacy groups to urge the federal government to pass rental assistance laws “to prevent a tsunami of evictions,” Simone said. 

In California, one organization that provides homeless services had to open up seven new shelters since February to respond to the sudden surge in people needing a place to stay. 

“We set up probably 600 new beds, 700 new beds just since Covid started,” said Joel Roberts, CEO of People Assisting the Homeless in California. 

But homelessness is a gradual process, so indicators like these that point to a potentially rising population of homeless people form just the tip of the iceberg. Someone who gets evicted from their home because they’re unable to pay will likely “go couch-surfing and they’ll call up friends or family” to ask if they can stay in their homes, Roberts said.

meless person sleeping under scaffolding, 20th Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.

Joan Slatkin | Getty Images

The transition to homelessness is different for each person. It could be a month or so until these people try living out of their cars, Roberts added. But if there’s no steady income coming in, a person living in their car might resort to selling it for money.

“And then that’s when their day they start knocking on PATH’s door,” Roberts said. “So it’s not all of a sudden that everyone’s going to get kicked out of their apartments and they’re all ending up on the streets. It’s not that quick.”

Racial inequity 

The people most at risk of being evicted and ended up newly homeless are people of color, according to homeless service experts. 

About 25% of Black and Latino renters said they either deferred or did not pay rent in May, according to the results of a survey from the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank that focuses on economic research. Only about 14% of white renters responded the same way.

That survey also asked renters to rate their confidence level on being able to pay rent for the month of June. About a quarter of white renters said they had slight or no confidence in being able to pay rent for that month, while about half of Black and Latino renters said the same thing. 

“When we look at who historically has faced eviction in housing court, it is predominantly people of color and when we look at people who are currently in shelters and on the streets, once again, it is predominantly people of color,” Simone said.

In Boston, 70% of evicting filings occur in communities where people of color make up the majority of residents, according to WBUR News.

There are no official numbers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development on how many people are projected to face eviction when the federal moratorium ends later this month. 

The office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC. But a spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Urban Development told Politico that the agency “does not have these numbers available.” 

“In California, I believe it’s six and a half percent of the population is Black Americans. And yet 40% of the homeless population is Black. So there’s a disproportionate number of people on the streets that are Black Americans and people of color,” Roberts of PATH said. “So it’s not just simply a crisis of people getting evicted.”

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