Mary Robinson could lose her apartment if she can’t come up with a pile of money, but her unemployment benefits shrank from nearly $900 to $247 last week.
The 39-year-old mother of two in Rochester, New York, could face eviction as the economy sputters and Congress dithers over whether to pass another coronavirus relief bill.
“People that are working and trying to maintain get the shit end of the stick,” she said.
There are 30 million to 40 million people in the United States at risk of being evicted by the end of the year, according to a report released Friday by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Unless Congress acts to reimpose a moratorium on certain evictions, extend unemployment benefits or offer some other relief, these people could be forced out of their homes in the middle of an economic downturn and a pandemic.
“The urgency of the situation really can’t be overstated,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the NLIHC, told HuffPost. “It’s keeping people very confused and anxious about what’s next.”
More than a third of renters said at the end of July that they had little confidence they’d be able to make their August rent, according to a nationwide survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. Millions of Americans have returned to work since state and local governments imposed coronavirus lockdowns in March, but the pace of job growth has slowed ― just as federal stimulus policies are expiring.
Renters with children, like Robinson, are likely to be hit hardest. There are 14 million renters across the U.S. with children, and research shows that they are more likely to receive an eviction judgment. All renters also face disparities within the legal system; fewer than 10% of renters have access to legal counsel compared with 90% of landlords, making it that much harder to fight an eviction judgment.
Experts have pointed out that this unprecedented public health crisis hit amid a preexisting crisis that has already affected millions of Americans. From 2006 to 2016, 61 million eviction cases were filed in the U.S., with more than 3 million evictions occurring annually, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.
Robinson had relied on an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits that Congress created in March as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). The law also imposed a moratorium on evictions in federally subsidized properties; both provisions have expired, as lawmakers failed to anticipate that the coronavirus would be spreading wildly four months after passing the $2 trillion stimulus package.
That extra $600 was crucial for so many, particularly renters ― that same amount is usually around what tenants owe when they’re evicted.
“These people in Congress who have money, they don’t understand what the middle and lower class is going through,” Robinson said.
Robinson got laid off as a technician for a telecommunications company in May. She was already behind on rent, having just started the job in March following a month of being unemployed.
“These people in Congress who have money, they don’t understand what the middle and lower class is going through.”
She received an eviction notice at the end of July telling her that landlord and tenant court would reopen on Aug. 22. “As such, we have prepared all necessary documentation necessary with our lawyer to obtain the earliest possible court date to address your unpaid rent balance,” the letter said.
It’s not clear if the landlord would be able to throw Robinson out. She doesn’t live in a federally subsidized property covered by the federal moratorium, but New York state has paused evictions. On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) extended the state’s eviction moratorium through September.
“No evictions as long as we are in the middle of the epidemic,” Cuomo said.
But the fine print of Cuomo’s extension means that thousands of renters in New York may still be at risk of eviction ― according to the executive order, tenants may have to prove that they weren’t facing eviction before the pandemic hit.
For this reason, housing and law experts are calling for more long-term solutions rather than month-by-month extensions.
“Unless the United States immediately invests in eviction prevention, we can expect the pillars of resiliency ― employment, education, health care and housing ― to splinter across the country, especially among communities of color who entered the pandemic at a deficit due to systemic and structural racial discrimination,” Emily Benfer, a law professor at Wake Forest University School of Law and co-creator of the Eviction Lab COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard said in a statement Friday.
“Ultimately, only a long-term solution to housing precarity can protect the millions of Americans who are accruing significant amounts of back rent and the landlords and communities who rely on rent payments.”
The long-term solution is twofold, said Yentel of the NLIHC. Implementing a uniform national eviction moratorium for the entirety of the pandemic is essential, as is addressing back pay for when the pandemic is over. The NLIHC has worked with Congress to push for $100 billion in rental assistance.
“Eviction moratoriums aren’t enough, and they create a financial cliff for renters and landlords,” Yentel said. “We don’t want to end this crisis having saddled more low-income people with more debt.”
It should not matter what state a person lives in, either, Yentel said. There are currently 30 states that have not extended their eviction moratoriums.
“Either we agree that it’s cruel to evict people in a pandemic, or we don’t.”
“Either we agree that it’s cruel to evict people in a pandemic, or we don’t,” she said. “And if it is, it shouldn’t be a lucky draw if you live in a state where the governor agrees. Why does a renter in Texas deserve to be evicted but not someone in New York? That’s completely unjust.”
Robinson said she’s been offered a new job as a broadband installer, but she’s waiting on a background check and the position pays about $15 an hour, which is $10 less than her previous job. She’s not confident her landlord won’t still try to throw her out over unpaid rent.
“They don’t care,” she said.
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