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The national ban on evictions is due to expire this week, but what critics say has been a slow rollout of federal aid means that many people could still be at risk of being displaced.
The moratorium, imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to expire July 31, with President Joe Biden's administration announcing Thursday that it does not intend to extend it again and that it would be up to Congress to do so. The latest data from the Census Bureau shows more than 3.4 million people reporting that they are very likely or somewhat likely to be evicted in the next two months.
“We have things like rental assistance that should help with that, but we need to get that money out there,” said Vik Patel, an attorney for Community Legal Services, which offers legal aid to low-income Philadelphians, referencing the $46 billion that Congress approved to help landlords and tenants.
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“If that money doesn't go to the appropriate places in time, then I think that we are going to see a significant increase in the number of people who lose their homes,” Patel said.
Those federal dollars have fallen prey to a scattershot method of distribution, with states and municipalities responsible for their own way of getting the money out to people.
That reality was on display Wednesday, when Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead urged landlords and tenants to apply for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program to pay for past-due or upcoming rent and utility bills – while pointing out that the application process varies by county.
As recently as June 30, economist Gene Sperling, Biden’s pick to oversee the spending of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, urged state and local governments to “respond with speed and force because there is no alternative.”
“We must accelerate and expand the efforts of state and local governments, not only to get ERA [emergency rental assistance] money out the door to tenants and landlords but to help those who have become homeless and to prevent racially disparate impacts from evictions across our nation,” Sperling said during the White House Eviction Prevention Summit.
Matthew Desmond, a sociology professor and lead investigator at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, pointed out at the summit that even before the pandemic, the country was “in the midst of a really acute housing crisis for renters.” In an average year, some 3.7 million evictions are filed in America, with most renting families below the poverty line spending at least half their income on rent, Desmond said.
Nicole Bachaud, an economic data analyst at Zillow, said a catastrophic wave of millions of evictions in the next few months is unlikely, but warned the country could still see 1.5 times more evictions than in pre-pandemic years.
For renters, an eviction could have catastrophic repercussions for years to come.
“Evictions are a really traumatic experience and they really follow people through the next phase of their life. It's a lot harder to get into a new rental if you have an eviction on your record, so it's definitely going to impact people's mobility and their ability to find a new, stable place to live,” Bachaud said.
There have been some bright spots, with Philadelphia’s new eviction diversion program, which benefits both landlords and renters, earning praise.
But such programs are not widespread throughout the country, and Patel said more needs to be done at the federal level to keep people in their homes. The federal government could, for example, fund counsel for renters in eviction court, most of whom show up without legal representation and are unaware of their rights, he said.
Meanwhile, Bachaud pointed out that homeowners have been able to take advantage of “standardized and formalized” forbearance programs to reduce or defer mortgage payments, in contrast to renters who have had to navigate through a more complicated web to receive assistance.
“There's not really any sort of consistency across the nation on how these things work, what they're targeting,” she said.
“Creating a program or possibilities to help renters be able to pay their landlords is really the best way to do this because it keeps renters in their homes and it also keeps landlords receiving the income that they need,” Bachaud added.
If you live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware, the following links will redirect you to rental assistance resources in your state:
- Clicking here will take you to Pennsylvania's Emergency Rental Assistance Program. You can also click this link to see who you can call in your specific county for help with your rental assistance application. Philadelphia’s application is here. You can also call 311 or 215-686-8686 for help.
- To be redirected to New Jersey’s program and a list of resources by county, click here. For more help, call 609-490-4550.
- For rental assistance in Delaware, click here.