With the CDC's national eviction moratorium set to expire on December 31, the Stop Evictions Network in North Carolina launched a campaign Tuesday to keep every person in the state safely housed for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to avert a disastrous intensification of economic misery as well as Covid-19 infections.
"The Covid-19 pandemic, a time when we should stay closer to home for our collective health, has threatened millions of people with housing insecurity and eventual homelessness."
—Stop Eviction Network
An estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people in North Carolina are unable to pay their rent, according to a September report from the National Council of State Housing Agencies. As a result of the expiration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's emergency order halting some evictions, analysts are expecting an estimated 240,000 eviction filings across the state come January.
"This is... a government failure," said Jesse Hamilton McCoy II, supervising attorney at Duke Law's Civil Justice Clinic. "We needed... relief systems that were going to provide rent supplementation so that the landlords would be able to get the money they need to cover their overhead, and the tenants wouldn't continue to accrue deficits."
Instead, "what we're doing essentially is kicking the can that we have continuously kicked throughout 2020, and we have now kicked it into January of 2021."
The Stop Evictions Network—a broad coalition of organizations fighting to end evictions and advocating for affordable housing in North Carolina—has two objectives.
First, the groups want to put a stop to the evictions being enacted currently in violation of the CDC's moratorium and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's (D) executive order, issued in October, which requires landlords to give tenants the option of utilizing protections before initiating an eviction.
And second, the coalition seeks to extend the eviction moratorium until the end of the pandemic.
"Home means everything, but the Covid-19 pandemic, a time when we should stay closer to home for our collective health, has threatened millions of people with housing insecurity and eventual homelessness," the Stop Evictions Network explained in a campaign video. "Let's make housing a universally recognized human right."
What's happening in North Carolina is a microcosm of the national situation.
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Twelve million renters in the United States are expected to owe an average of nearly $6,000 in back rent and utilities by the time tenant protections are lifted when the new year begins, as Common Dreams reported on Monday. Several sources of federal aid, including unemployment insurance for 12 million workers, are also slated to expire by the end of 2020.
This combination of worsening financial distress and expiring assistance and protections puts as many as 19 million Americans throughout the country at risk of losing their homes in the midst of a public health crisis that requires people to shelter in place.
In September, critics warned that while the CDC's temporary halt on some evictions was a helpful step in the right direction, the absence of rental forgiveness or relief called for by progressives meant that the impending tsunami of displacement was only being postponed, not prevented.
Thanks to landlord-friendly provisions pushed by the White House, thousands of tenants were still evicted even after the CDC's moratorium. And a recent analysis of the relationship between coronavirus transmission and evictions that occurred before the CDC's intervention showed that the premature lifting of state-level eviction bans led to more than 433,000 excess Covid-19 cases and 10,700 preventable deaths in the U.S. between March and September.
"This is a time where it's not an overstatement to say that for many people, eviction can lead to death," Helen Matthews of City Life/Vida Urbana, a housing nonprofit in Boston, said last month.
Unless the federal government extends the CDC's emergency order halting evictions, "millions of Americans will become homeless in the middle of winter [and] many of them will die," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) tweeted in late November. "This is not complicated."
Housing justice advocates argue that the mounting accumulation of rental debt shows that an eviction moratorium, while necessary, is insufficient. It doesn't address "the underlying problem," said the National Low-Income Housing Coalition's Andrew Aurand. "Renters [are] struggling to pay their rent because we're in an economic crisis."
Without income support and rental assistance, "it is unrealistic to think that low-income households will be able to pay the back rent," said Peggy Bailey of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.