National Eviction Ban: An Insufficient Band-aid
The CDC recently passed a national eviction ban through the end of December, 2020. This will protect the approximately 30-40 million tenants who are currently at risk of being evicted.
An eviction ban does not forgive tenant rental payments - it simply delays them. Tenants are expected to pay the full sum of their rents when the ban is lifted, and are encouraged to pay what they can in the meantime. Because of this, experts warn about the flood of evictions that might occur once the ban is lifted.
Some communities already saw a glimpse of the landslide we can expect when the moratorium will end in December. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 43 states enacted local eviction moratoriums. As these bans phased out, there was a rush of landlords filing for evictions (Pittsburgh, for example). Even though this may cast landlords in a bad light, they are often anti-eviction if given a choice. As one Urban Institute article put it, “landlords take a hit now, and tenants will take a hit in the future.”
Landlords were some of the loudest advocates for an eviction ban in Washington state back in March. Filing evictions is an administrative hassle, and can be dangerous during COVID-19 because of in person court requirements. And ultimately, if they successfully evict their tenant, landlords are left with a vacant property they need fill.
Experts agree that the best way to protect renters and landlords in the wake of COVID-19 is emergency rental assistance. Unfortunately, we need a lot of it. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has estimated “a need for no less than $100 billion in emergency rental assistance.” The NLIHC broke down needs by state. California clocks in with the highest need, at about $1.8 billion per month from May-September. If you’re curious about how much your state will need in assistance, you can check out their excel spreadsheet here.
How did we get here? The reality is that we already had a housing affordability crisis in this country before the pandemic. Back in 2019, more than a third of our country was living in housing situations they couldn’t fully afford. Before COVID-19, an eviction happened every four minutes with disparate impacts across communities of color, and women.
There were cracks in the system before COVID-19. The pandemic simply shined a light through to reveal them.
Communities across the country have experimented with policies and programs to help renters and landlords avoid the worst. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University has been particularly active during COVID-19 and created a scorecard for states to judge how well they’ve responded to housing needs from the pandemic. Policies include free utility reconnections, banning late fees, and keeping eviction records sealed so it doesn’t impact a tenant’s ability to obtain adequate housing in the future.
The disparity in homeownership rates between white and black families is worse now than when race-based discrimination against homeowners was legal. The only real way to make progress is to build pathways for individual and familial wealth through homeownership, and reinforce housing is a human right.
At the end of the day, if the eviction ban is a band-aid, then emergency rental assistance is just a few stitches. These short term local policies are just throwing a bit of salve on the wound that is the housing affordability crisis. The disparity in homeownership rates between white and black families is worse now than when race-based discrimination against homeowners was legal. The only real way to make progress is to build pathways for individual and familial wealth through homeownership, and reinforce housing is a human right. Cooperative ownership models, inclusionary zoning, and land banks are examples of ways to build individual and familial wealth, and stop the spread of the affordability crisis in our country.
What innovative housing policies and programs have you seen in your community? Is your hometown planning on using their CARES Act funds to address housing?