Eviction Moratorium: How Bad Could It Be?

Eviction MoratoriumAccording to housing expert Jim Parrott and economist Mark Zandi, if the eviction moratorium had ended in December 2020, 10 million American renters were behind on payments, and would have been at risk of eviction. To put that in perspective, during the Great Recession of 2008, 7 million Americans experienced foreclosure over a period of four years.

As of late June 2021, The News & Observer reports that according to the National Equity Atlas, 182,000 North Carolinians are behind on rent by an average of $2,700. Nearly 8,000 of these households are in Durham County.[2]

The $900 billion aid package passed in December includes $25 billion for rental assistance that is paid directly to the landlords or utility companies.[3] The Biden Administration asked Congress for an additional $30 billion and was able to secure $21.5 billion by compromise.[4] There is still a fair amount of uncertainty here. Landlords will get their due, and perhaps renters are no longer behind on rent, but are they still protected from eviction? We know from experience that landlords sometimes have a prejudicial or otherwise unjustified reason to want to evict a person and can find loopholes to terminate a housing agreement. Renters may also be unaware of their rights or lack resources to assert their housing rights, prompting them to turn over their keys prematurely. This is especially true if resources like Legal Aid or local eviction programs are swamped with requests for help. Similar to Housing Choice Vouchers, landlords are not required to accept funds made available by the government like these Coronavirus Relief Funds designed to stabilize the housing market.

In North Carolina, this program is called HOPE (Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Eviction). It was launched on October 15, 2020, and generated a response of 37,000 applicants. The program quickly exhausted $133 million of available funding, and went on a hiatus for new applicants in November.[5] The program re-opened to new applicants in mid-May—a backlog of six months. Twelve counties, including Durham, met a threshold to manage these funds locally separate from HOPE.

On June 24th, the CDC extended the eviction moratorium by one month, allowing for the ban to be lifted August 1st. Given the short period of time that these rental assistance programs have been able to accept new applications, it will require all hands on deck to ensure that eligible renters have their applications processed to hopefully minimize the human cost, and diminish the impact on the housing and homelessness service provider network.

 

Check out our first post in this series here.

[1] Parrott, Jim and Mark Zandi. “Averting an Eviction Crisis.” Moody Analytics. January 2021. <https://www.moodysanalytics.com/-/media/article/2021/averting-an-eviction-crisis.pdf)>.

[2] Sessoms, Ben. “Realtors want eviction ban to end but housing advocates say tenants need more time.” News & Observer. June 19, 2021. <https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article252216478.html>.

[3]Parrott and Zandi.

[4] Ibid., and “Fact Sheet: Housing Provisions in the American Rescue Plan of 2021.” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. <https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/Main/documents/Factsheet_Housing_Provisions_American_Rescue_Plan_Act-2021.pdf>.

[5] Sessoms, Ben. “More than 37,000 residents applied for help with rent. The funds are set to run out.” News & Observer. November 10, 2020, updated November 17, 2020. <https://www.newsobserver.com/article247108872.html>; and Sessoms, Ben. “NC has COVID money for tenants behind on the rent. Here’s what you need to know.” News & Observer. June 6, 2021. <https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article251901533.html>.

Eviction Moratorium Series: The Warning Signs

We’ve been saying it for a while…a storm is coming.

“But how so?” you ask. “Isn’t the pandemic almost in the rear-view mirror now?”

Logic (and our longings for normalcy) would certainly support this view. But when you start looking harder at data, trends, and observations, you begin to see a different picture.

Back in March 2020, we all felt the huge tension between the need to be safe and the excruciating reality that inequalities in our country would mean that some of our neighbors would suffer more than they had to. Our entire community rallied with donations, much-needed supplies, and contactless volunteer support.

But the surge in “need” we expected never came. There was an increase in requests for shelter opportunities for the well-publicized resource of the Marriott hotel in RTP—particularly among the unsheltered. But it was not the surge. In the race to adjust services and keep everyone safe, it took a while to notice. We saw it first in our reports from the Community Café. How could it be that the numbers of meals served were down significantly? We knew we had reduced bed space for social distancing, but shouldn’t there be more people lined up for to-go meals if they were struggling financially?

It was extremely puzzling. But we noticed that the community was doing a LOT to help make life easier for their neighbors. Congregations were opening their own food pantries, and some groups were delivering groceries directly to neighborhoods. And most importantly, schools were feeding not only students who were learning remotely, but they were often providing groceries for the entire family. The need was there, but the need was being met for the most part. As people go back to pre-pandemic routines, some of that support is beginning to recede.

The next sign related to a delay in the surge? Fewer affordable housing options for client placement during the eviction moratorium period. Because Durham’s affordable housing options are so limited, many “new start” opportunities for a UMD client arise—unfortunately—when someone else is evicted or has to vacate a property. While evictions did not completely stop, the eviction moratorium was working. Households had some stability.

The good news: All of our combined efforts as a community, and with public policy, seem to have worked. The bad news: Durham has a typical eviction filing rate of 900-1,000 per month. While not all of those filings end in eviction, a backlog of 15+ months of households will suddenly become eligible for eviction—not in a cyclical wave—but in a compounded tsunami wave. And it will happen when many of us are not looking—while we are going back to “normal.”

The pandemic surge we expected in early Spring 2020 will hit in Summer 2021, and likely just in time for school to start back.