Losing a roof
On Tuesday, Feb. 16, President Biden extended a ban on home foreclosures to June 30. Originally, Biden had extended the ban to March 31 via an executive order issued on his first day in office. According to the White House, one in five renters is behind on rent and just over 10 million homeowners are behind on mortgage payments. People of color face even greater hardship and are more likely to have deferred or missed payments, putting them at greater risk of eviction and foreclosure.
This is all absolutely true. However, it leaves out a big group of individuals: renters. The original CARES act offered eviction protection for 120 days. This was periodically extended, most recently by President Biden to March 31.
I have to wonder why renters were left out of the most recent foreclosure moratorium. I hope that this was just an oversight. If not, landlords will be in line to file eviction notices. Some landlords may have already filed notices, but unless the moratorium was lifted, there was not much that the landlords could do. However, with the March 31 date in sight, court systems could be overwhelmed with legal notices forcing more than just 10 million people nationwide into homelessness.
Despite stimulus checks being used to pay past due rent, there is even more unpaid rent remaining to be collected. The latest eviction extension was filed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a means of limiting the spread of COVID-19 in shelters and other forms of group housing. And while renters are falling behind on their rent, there is still no plan on what aid they might receive to be able to pay some of that back rent. Additionally, all COVID-related moratoriums have thus far been related to a renter’s inability to pay rent; they could still be evicted for other reasons. Meanwhile, a moratorium extension does not mean that an eviction notice has not already been filed. A landlord might be waiting to spring into action once the deadline passes. Finally, filing all the necessary paperwork to prevent evictions to date may or may not hold up in a local court.
As part of the American Rescue Plan, $30 billion has been allocated for assisting low-income households with rent and utility payments. Additional money is to be directed to the states to assist with temporary housing. Although the stimulus bill calls for extensions of both the mortgage forbearance and the eviction moratorium until Sept. 30, it has yet to be passed and each day brings additional stress to renters already in precarious positions.
Renters already have more cost burden than homeowners. They pay more than one third of their take-home salary in rent and their income sources may be more precarious when compared to homeowners. The Eviction Lab at Princeton asserts that the $25 billion set aside for rental assistance won’t be enough to cover past due rent. Moreover, each city, state and municipality has its own rules and regulations around evictions. Ultimately if an eviction lands in a courthouse, the court will be the final arbiter.
Most of the filings are against women and people of color. Landlords are known to file eviction notices against Black and Latine renters, especially women, at higher rates than white people. Estimates range from 30-40 million renters being displaced if the eviction moratorium is not extended at least as much as the mortgage forbearance.
Any roof over a person should matter, whether rented or owned. If the additional debt is being added to an already unprecedented debt, what’s another hundred billion or so to save families from being displaced from their homes?