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The federal ban on evictions is set to expire tonight. A last-minute effort by House Dems to extend the moratorium failed late yesterday, and the Supreme Court ruled that the moratorium could not be extended without new legislation from Congress. A Census survey found that as of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people are at risk of eviction in the next two months. Emily Benfer, visiting professor of law and public health at Wake Forest University, joins.
The federal ban on evictions is set to expire tonight. A last-minute effort by House Democrats to extend the moratorium failed late yesterday. Missouri Democratic representative Cori Bush, who previously struggled with homelessness, spent the night on the capitol steps in a push for the senate to extend the ban.
The moratorium was put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with nearly $47 billion allocated for landlords and renters. So far, about $3 billion of that has been spent.
The U.S. Supreme court ruled that the moratorium could not be extended without new legislation from Congress.
A Census Bureau pulse survey found that as of July 5th, roughly 3.6 million people are at risk of eviction in the next two months. For more on the impact of lifting the moratorium, I spoke with Emily Benfer, visiting professor of law and public health at wake forest university
Miss Benfer, we have seen some form of this before. I covered Hurricane Katrina, there were moratoriums on evictions after that, but this is unprecedented, the length of time and the amount of people that are affected.
That's absolutely correct. This is the first time we've ever had a nationwide federally issued moratorium across the country. And that's part of the reason why it's critical to have a plan to phase it out as opposed to lifting it immediately and before the $46 billion in rental assistance can reach the landlords and the tenants who need it most.
So what's the snag here? If there are $46 billion allocated, why has that not gotten to the renters and then ultimately to the landlords that need to keep the economy going?
In the same way that this is the first time we've had a freeze on evictions across the country, it's also the first time we've had this level of rental assistance funding ever available. We did not have the infrastructure to provide this type of assistance and emergency response to an eviction crisis ever before. So this means that cities and states across the country have been building the program as they're trying to get the funds out. At this stage, we should expect those programs to be up and running smoothly, to be accessible, to be really delivering that rental assistance where it's needed most. Unfortunately, that's not been the case at all. At the end of June, only $3 billion out of the $46 billion had been administered across the country.
So why haven't the landlords been paid?
Many of the programs have been erecting barriers that are not necessary. So very extensive application procedures that some some applications being as long as 40 pages. And for people who are at high risk, who may not have Internet access or the ability to cull through that type of application, that can be extremely restrictive. There are also many people who aren't aware that the rental assistance even exists in their community. So the outreach and the access points really need to increase in the collaboration with the affected community. And landlords themselves has to happen immediately to ensure that this gets out right away.
Are there specific geographic areas, other specific demographics that are going to feel this worse in the next couple of days?
The southern states have had the highest risk of eviction across the country, but generally speaking, no corner of the country has been untouched by the eviction crisis. Every community is facing this issue.
Is there a correlation between evictions and the spread of COVID-19?
Yes, there is. States that lifted their eviction moratoriums, had an excess amount of inspection and over 10,700 excess deaths just in the summer of last year. So when we lift the federal eviction moratorium across the country, we can expect to see an increase in COVID-19 infection and death in those communities. And that will have a ripple effect very quickly to bordering communities as well. Eviction makes it impossible for families to protect themselves from the pandemic. It leads to doubling up and overcrowded living environments where it's impossible to socially distance to self quarantine if you were infected, never more so than now has housing been paramount to public health. When the eviction moratorium lifts, the people who will be evicted first will be black and Hispanic mothers and children. Being a child is the single greatest predictor of an eviction and all else equal. They are three times more likely to be evicted than another tenant owing the same amount of back rent. And this is particularly concerning because children are not eligible under age 12 for vaccination. So when they are expelled from their home, they will be at heightened risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus, especially the Delta variant. And this is also particularly concerning because the communities there at the highest risk of eviction also have the lowest vaccination rates due to significant barriers to accessing health care at this time.
So essentially, should we be looking out three weeks from now for increased case numbers, six weeks from now for increased hospitalizations?
We saw the peak excess cases and deaths about six weeks out in our study after eviction moratorium lifted of COVID-19. However, the eviction itself could occur as early as the end of next week for the cases that are on pause right now to about six weeks out in jurisdictions that have more equitable landlord-tenant laws and this could happen very quickly.
What do you say to the landlords out there? Evicting somebody doesn't necessarily mean that they get any of that money that they're owed anyway.
That's right, once a landlord evict the tenant who's behind on rent, they lose their eligibility for rental assistance filing for that tenant. So that means that they're foregoing the past debt that was due and are likely never to collect on it, in addition to incurring the filing fees, the attorneys fees and additional court costs that they might have. So at this moment, it's in the landlords', especially small property owners', best interest to work with their community to obtain that rental assistance and to work with their tenant to make sure that they are made whole and that the tenant doesn't suffer that long term harm that will ultimately propel the pandemic and surge this crisis in a way that we're going to be hard pressed to recover from.
Emily Benfer, for a visiting professor of law and public health at Wake Forest University. Thanks so much for joining us.
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