Renters brace for evictions as moratorium expires, virus cases resurge
Over 15 million people live in households that are behind on rental payments.
A major lifeline for millions of Americans was precipitously cut off over the weekend, leaving many families that are still reeling from the economic shock wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic now also at risk of losing their homes.
Notwithstanding last-minute scrambles from some lawmakers to extend it, the federal eviction moratorium instituted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expired at midnight on Saturday.
The lapse in the pandemic-era protection that shielded vulnerable Americans from homelessness during the health crisis also comes as coronavirus cases resurge across the country. Millions of renters are now bracing for what happens next.
"It's more than stress, it's depression -- this is rock bottom," Jim Shock, 53, a West Virginia native who lost his job amid the pandemic and now faces eviction, told ABC News. "I don't see an upside, and I don't mind being humbled, being humbled doesn't bother me. Struggles give you strength, and I'm all about all that. But yeah, this is probably as bad as it's been, and I don't know what I'm going to do."
Terriana Julian Clark, 27, a mother of two from Harvey, Louisiana, said the past year has been marked by sickness, unemployment and homelessness before she moved into a home in February. In April, she became sick and suddenly unable to work at her in-person job. As bills and back-rent have piled up, she said she's now waiting for an eviction notice from her landlord with the moratorium expired.
"He already told me, if I don't have any type of money for him on the first day, he's going to put out a 5 to 10 day eviction notice," Clark said in an interview with ABC News' "Start Here."
"I slept in my car from January 2020 to January 2021," she said, adding that she expects to move back into her Ford Mustang if she loses her home again -- though she said she doesn't want to put her children through that experience again.
"It was really hard," Clark said, "to get gas, food, water. Making sure they have clothes on their back -- because we couldn't wash every day. So, like, having clean clothes is not like a necessity, not an option for us. I literally could feel the weight of the sweat from us in the seats."
"I literally filled out 64 job applications in one month and only heard from two people," the mom said, adding, "I'm trying to do the best that I can to stay up and not ever go back to where I was."
More than 15 million people live in households that are currently behind on their rental payments, which puts them at risk of eviction, according to a report released last week by the nonprofit Aspen Institute think tank. Broken down further, researchers said that figure includes 7.4 million adults -- which is in line with separate census data that says some 7.4 million adults are not caught up on rent payments as of July 5.
In the next two months alone, approximately 3.6 million American reported that they will likely face eviction, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Aspen researchers also said the threat of eviction disproportionately impacts communities of color. Some 22% of Black renters and 17% of Latino renters are in debt to their landlords, compared to 11% of white renters and 15% overall, the report said.
Shock lamented how the moratorium is ending despite the pandemic not being over in the U.S., saying, "the COVID compassion disappeared so quickly."
"It's not over," he added of the health crisis. "It's probably going to get worse if people don't get vaccinated because of the delta strain."
Data suggests the nation is grappling with a new summer surge in cases. The seven-day moving average of daily new cases in the U.S. shot up more than 64% compared with the previous week’s, the CDC said in data released last Friday. Presently, the U.S. is averaging some 66,606 new cases of COVID-19 per day.
Moreover, citing new science on the transmissibility of the delta variant, the CDC last week reversed course on its indoor mask guidance -- recommending everyone in areas with substantial or high levels of transmission wear a face covering in public indoor settings whether they are vaccinated or not.
Diane Yentel, the president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), told ABC News via email that a vast majority -- an estimated 80% -- of families currently behind on rent live in communities where the delta variant is surging.
"Having millions of families lose their homes would be tragic and consequential at any time," Yentel said. "It will be especially so as COVID surges and with abundant resources to pay the rent that may not reach them in time."
"This urgent situation demands immediate action by policy makers and stakeholders at all levels," she added, calling on Congress and the Biden administration to extend the moratorium and local governments to improve and expedite getting assistance to tenants who need it to stay housed.
Moreover, Yentel called on the Department of Justice to direct courts to stop evictions for renters who are applying for emergency rental assistance, and on the Treasury Department to eliminate barriers that prevent emergency rental assistance from flowing where it needs to go. Finally, Yentel said the CDC should require landlords provide 30-days notice to renters before beginning eviction actions.
The NLIHC implored the Biden administration to "prevent a historic wave of evictions" in a June letter, arguing that with COVID-19 still present the expiration could lead to a rise in cases and virus deaths.
Research released from Princeton University's Eviction Lab similarly argued in a June report that neighborhoods with the highest eviction filing rates have had the lowest levels of COVID-19 vaccinations. The researchers said their findings suggest "those most at risk of being evicted are still at high risk of contracting and passing the virus."
Shock said another major concern about the eviction ban lifting is that, "Once you're homeless, it's going to be a lot harder for you to get a home."
Aspen Institute policy researchers stated in their report that rental housing debt is "uniquely toxic" due to its lingering consequences in addition to eviction.
"People evicted on the basis of rental debt are likely to face a series of cascading consequences," the report stated. "These may include civil legal actions or debt collection to recover outstanding balances, negative credit reporting that makes it difficult or impossible to rent a new home, short-term or extended homelessness, and a significant decline in physical and mental health."
Researchers added that these long-term consequences can be particularly acute for children.
A majority (57%) of Americans say the eviction and foreclosure moratorium is still needed, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, though support divides sharply based on partisan lines as 75% of Democrats say this compared to 34% of Republicans.
Some Republican lawmakers have argued the moratorium unfairly punishes landlords, and could have unintended consequences such as higher rents if landlords account for the possibility of these moratoriums occurring again in the future. Others, including the Biden administration, have argued that the rental assistance meant to go toward landlords needs to be more efficiently dispersed by state and local governments.
Still, local authorities and renters are now bracing for the fallout of the protections expiring. St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts told the Associated Press that his office plans to enforce about 30 evictions per day starting on Aug. 9, and that more than 125 evictions had been ordered pending the end of the moratorium in his community. He said he has also been contacted by a slew of landlords planning on filing for evictions and expects to increase his staffing.
Shock said that many Americans who weathered the pandemic and financial downturn may be acting like everything is now going back to normal, but he predicts the nation is now on the precipice of a new housing crisis. The unemployment rate in the U.S. was 5.9% as of the most-recent Labor Department report, still well above the pre-pandemic 3.5% seen in February 2020.
"I think that the worst is yet to come. I think you're going to see a homeless problem spike, you're going to see food banks strained beyond anything that they can imagine," he told ABC News. "After the COVID compassion wears off, then people are going to start bickering about homelessness: 'Where are we going to put them? Where are we going to send them?'"
"It's just the beginning," he added. "I think we're going to see just a surge of homelessness, and all the things that come with that."