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Without Government Intervention, Economists Warn Renters Across US Could Soon Face 'Avalanche of Evictions'

"The fact that we are displacing people in a global pandemic is immoral."

A demonstrator calls on the governor to suspend rent and mortgage payments to help those who have lost their income due to the coronavirus during a protest on April 30, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Economists and housing experts on Wednesday warned of an impending "avalanche of evictions" unless the federal government steps in to provide renters with robust financial assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Census data released earlier this month shows about a quarter of respondents weren't able to pay their rent or mortgage in May or are concerned they won't be able to pay in June. Compounding the problem, many local and state-level temporary moratoriums on evictions are expiring in the coming weeks.

Without government intervention, housing expert Emily Benfer told the New York Times, "I think we will enter into a severe renter crisis and very quickly."

House Democrats this month put forward $100 billion in rental and mortgage  assistance as part of the $3 trillion HEROES Act. Republicans have signaled that the relief package won't pass in the Senate, with Senate Majority Leader deriding it as a "seasonal catalog of left-wing oddities" and pushing to include in any new coronavirus legislation legal immunity for businesses if their employees become ill after being pushed to go back to work. 

While many other wealthy countries have provided their populations with direct stimulus payments, government-backed paychecks for anyone who can't work during the crisis, and other programs to ensure they won't have to choose between paying their rent, groceries, or medical bills, all most Americans have received so far are a one-time $1,200 check and an extra $600 per week for those who can access unemployment benefits.

 

"The reason this pandemic hit the U.S. so uniquely hard is simple: government ineptitude," tweeted columnist Phillip Picardi. "People shouldn't have to pay for the sins of our politicians."

Democrats in Congress want the $600 in added unemployment benefits extended until January 2021, but Republicans intend to block an extension and leave unemployed Americans without any extra benefits after the program expires in July. 

A federal moratorium on evictions, included in the CARES Act and passed in March, is also scheduled to expire at the end of July, and only applies to properties with government-backed loans—protecting about 28% of renters. 

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State and local orders in states including California and Oregon are also set to expire at the end of May or in June, and the Texas Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that evictions for tenants not protected by the CARES Act could begin again this week. 

The housing advocacy group Texas Housers warned that the state Supreme Court's ruling could have a devastating effect on renters and the overall economy.

"Tenants will have their lives upended as a result of evictions, landlords may have an increase in empty units they can't fill and cities will have a homelessness crisis on their hands," deputy director Christina Rosales told the Texas Tribune. 

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro tweeted that the federal government's failure to provide renters with long-term assistance for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic will exacerbate the "housing affordability crisis" which existed long before the outbreak. 

"If we don't act soon to support renters and homeowners, we may have an eviction crisis on our hands," Castro wrote.

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