State lawmakers in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington are urging Congress to take action and protect the millions of renters facing eviction amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our constituents can no longer make ends meet due to the pandemic,” wrote half a dozen legislators, who chair their state legislature’s housing committees, in a letter sent Sunday to their Congressional delegations.
The lawmakers called for Congress to provide rental assistance funds for renters, noting that if many people are evicted and end up homeless, this could further worsen the spread of COVID-19.
“Immediate action is needed to prevent a massive eviction crisis that could impede our ability to curb the transmission of COVID-19,” the lawmakers wrote. “When renters are forced out of their homes, they either end up homeless, or are forced to move into overcrowded, temporary housing that does not allow them to follow the physical distancing urged by public health officials.”
The U.S. Census Bureau’s survey of American households found that from Oct. 28-Nov. 9, over 15 million households — or 28% of renters surveyed — had either “no confidence” or only “slight confidence” of being able to pay next month’s rent.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a moratorium on evictions amid the pandemic that is set to expire at the end of the year. The order does not protect renters from having to pay back any unpaid rent from the previous months. The lawmakers’ letter warns that the policy “only delays a massive wave of evictions.”
Several states have passed their own eviction moratoriums, but many are also set to expire in the coming months — such as California’s, which as of now will expire at the end of January.
Meanwhile, Congress has yet to pass another coronavirus relief package since the spring. Some unemployment benefits that Congress had included are set to expire in end of December, potentially affecting millions of people.
A subsequent coronavirus relief package, the HEROES Act, was passed by the Democratic-led House, but has stalled in the Republican-led Senate. It included $100 billion in emergency rental assistance.
The western states represented by the letter-writing lawmakers already had serious housing crises before the pandemic hit. California, where about one-quarter of the nation’s homeless people reside, saw several counties’ unhoused populations spike in recent years: In Alameda County, where Oakland is located, the number of homeless people ballooned by 43% from 2017 to 2019. In Los Angeles, homelessness rose 12% from 2018 to 2019 alone.
The U.S. has seen a precipitous rise in coronavirus cases, recording an average over 150,000 COVID-19 cases per day last week. Over 12.3 million people in the U.S. have contracted the virus, and more than 257,000 have died from it so far.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said an extra $600 in unemployment benefits would expire in December — in fact, that already expired in July, and separate benefits are set to expire at the end of the year.