'Coming to a Town Near You': Eviction Fears Mount as Grace Period for Federal Moratorium Expires

Cars display signs requesting to stop evictions as protesters supporting the rent freeze gather in Chinatown on August 10, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. During the pandemic, California has passed a number of eviction protections that are under evaluation as they have started expiring. (Photo: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)

'Coming to a Town Near You': Eviction Fears Mount as Grace Period for Federal Moratorium Expires

"It is morally obscene that the American people have to rely on GoFundMe to pay for rent and food," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

With a federal eviction moratorium that expired Monday and other temporary state and local protections and resources coming to an end--and rental and mortgage due dates for September 1 fast approaching--worries are growing this week that an estimated 30 to 40 million people in the U.S. could be at risk of losing their homes in the next several months "in the absence of robust and swift intervention."

According to The Guardian:

It is impossible to calculate exactly how many evictions have taken place during the pandemic because the government doesn't track that data. The closest thing to a national database, Princeton University's Eviction Lab, has not yet found a sustained rise in evictions, though some states have seen spikes after local eviction moratoriums ended.

Nonetheless, experts warn that unless relief is extended to vulnerable renters and homeowners experiencing financial hardship due to Covid-19, a surge in housing instability and dislocation is inevitable, especially for low-income renters.

Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project, toldCNBC that "landlords are just waiting."

Emily Benfer, chair of the American Bar Association's Covid-19 Task Force Committee on Eviction and a well-known authority on health and housing justice, argues that the expiration of expanded unemployment insurance and temporary housing relief alongside the reopening of courts means that it is only a matter of time before the U.S. "can expect an avalanche of evictions that will bury entire communities and result in a cascade of additional losses to financial well-being, health and housing opportunities."

She tweeted:

As Common Dreams reported last month, Senate Republicans have been criticized for allowing the federal eviction moratorium, which was part of the CARES Act, to expire in the first place. The HEROES Act, passed in May by House Democrats, contains $100 billion in rental assistance, $75 billion in mortgage assistance, and it extends eviction and foreclosure moratoriums through March 2021.

Yet it has languished on the desk of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for months. McConnell adjourned the U.S. Senate on August 13 without coming close to passing a new Covid-19 relief package. Although 30 to 40 million people remain at risk of eviction in the absence of economic assistance, senators are not expected to return until September 8.

Noting Monday that "the grace period for the federal eviction moratorium in the CARES Act expired," Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) urged McConnell to "call the Senate back into session and bring the HEROES Act to the floor."

Alluding to "millions at risk of eviction and homelessness," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also drew attention to the need for immediate rent relief.

This sentiment was echoed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who referred to the moral obscenity of U.S. residents' growing dependence on GoFundMe despite living in the wealthiest country in the world:

Even before policymakers went on vacation, housing activists in various parts of the country have been organizing tenants to prevent the "seemingly inevitable" surge in evictions. Journalist Amanda Holpuch stated that the Housing Justice for All coalition "has seen its email list grow during the pandemic from 6,000 people to more than 100,000 people."

Legal aid lawyers have also indicated their readiness to defend renters in eviction court proceedings. Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, shared a New York Timesarticle featuring housing lawyers' warnings about the impending crisis:

Multiple lawmakers asked, "What is Mitch McConnell waiting for?" and exhorted him to "do your job" and "get back to work." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is a co-sponsor of the Protecting Renters from Evictions and Fees Act, also chimed in.
Warren reminded McConnell: "You can't just close your eyes and think this problem will go away on its own."
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