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Sen. Warren Demands Eviction Moratorium as New Reporting Sheds Light on Nation's Stark Housing Inequality

"This pandemic is deepening our country's already historic levels of inequality."

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. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday called for an extension of a federal evictions moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits in response to new reporting spotlighting Americans' divergent housing realities as a result of the nation's deepening inequality triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The headline on the Washington Post's Monday story puts the disparity in clear terms: "2020 Is the Summer of Booming Home Sales—And Evictions." 

"Americans with money in the bank are buying bigger homes, while renters increasingly worry about eviction," wrote the Post's Heather Long.

As Long detailed:

Homes sales are booming, because Americans who have savings, stable jobs and good credit scores are taking advantage of the cheapest mortgage rates on record to bargain shop for larger homes. New mortgage applications just hit a level not seen since 2008. Sales of previously owned homes, like the one [realtor James] Dietsche listed in central Pennsylvania, surged a record-setting 20.7 percent in June. Sales of new homes jumped 13.8 percent last month, well above experts' forecasts.

Such housing security is not felt by millions of the nation's renters, however.

According to national data released last week, nearly 12.6 million people were unable to pay their rent last month, and over 9.3 million say they have "no confidence" they will be able to pay rent next month.

"Evictions are widely expected to spike soon," wrote Long.

The economic pain has been growing for months.

Back in April, Justin Ruben, co-director of ParentsTogether, described the economic crisis as "a five-alarm fire."

"Millions of families can't afford rent or other basic necessities," he said. "They are begging for relief that, for many, just isn't coming."

August rent is due in a few days, and formal assurances from federal lawmakers that the federal eviction moratorium will continue have yet to be announced.

As Politico reported Sunday:

Cities across the country are bracing for a surge of evictions after a four-month federal eviction moratorium expired Friday, with no relief in sight from Congress. But a brief comment from White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow during a Sunday appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" hinted at an extension provision in the dragging negotiations to approve a new pandemic economic relief package.

While the extension would bring needed relief, not all renters would be able to take advantage of it.

The federal eviction ban, included in the $2 trillion CARES Act legislation passed by Congress in March, covered all tenants living in buildings that have mortgages guaranteed by the U.S. government. It does not provide help to the majority of tenants who live in buildings with privately backed mortgages.

While states have imposed their own eviction moratoriums, 24 of them have already allowed the temporary bans to lapse.

As Peggy Bailey and Douglas Rice put it Monday at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "The pandemic has resulted in serious consequences for those with the fewest resources." And, they noted, those consequences have not been felt evenly.

Difficulties paying rent are particularly prevalent for Black and Latino renters, 31 percent and 26 percent of whom, respectively, reported in early July that they had fallen behind on rent, compared to 14 percent of non-Hispanic white renters and 11 percent of Asian renters. Moreover, large numbers of renters are struggling to pay rent despite the expansion of and weekly increase in unemployment benefits that Congress authorized in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

But Republicans are looking to slash those unemployment benefits from $600 to $200 a week—a reduction benefit advocacy group Patriotic Millionaires panned as "absolutely unacceptable."

To provide relief, Bailey and Rice urged policymakers to "draw on the housing provisions of the House-passed Heroes Act, which together constitute a strong, comprehensive approach to preventing evictions and alleviating other hardship among renters during the pandemic."

And in addition to extending the federal eviction moratorium, Bailey and Rice said "policymakers should provide significant funding through the Emergency Solutions Grant program for short- and medium-term rental assistance to help people stay in their current homes, avoid accumulating housing-related debt (without leaving landlords responsible for unpaid rent), and avoid eviction once federal, state, and local moratoriums expire."

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