The eviction crisis has yet to materialize
More people are behind on rent, but they don’t necessarily need another moratorium
In 2001, Cori Bush was living out of a Ford Explorer in St. Louis with her then-husband and two young children after falling behind on rent payments due to a job loss. Twenty years later, she won a seat in Congress. In July, Rep. Bush spent a few days sleeping outside of the U.S. Capitol to protest the lapse of a federal ban on evictions. The moratorium officially expired on Aug. 26 after the Supreme Court ruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not have purview over housing policy. But the court left a loophole: Congress can legislate an eviction moratorium.
Bush and fellow radical liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., accepted the challenge and introduced the Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021 on Tuesday. The bill would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services—of which the CDC is a branch—to create a federal eviction moratorium during a public health crisis. Such a law would make it illegal to evict until at least 60 days after the health secretary declared an end to the public health crisis.
Even as the economy shows signs of recovery, many Americans are still struggling to pay rent. They and their landlords worry about what would happen if another health crisis gripped the country. While politicians on the far left want to expand the power of the federal government to stop evictions, billions in aid dollars that could help renters and their landlords sits untouched.
About 14 percent of U.S. renters are behind on rent payments, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That rate is up roughly 50 percent since the bureau’s most recent pre-pandemic estimates in 2017. The most recent Household Pulse Survey conducted by the Census Bureau reported roughly 30 percent of Americans said they were at risk of eviction or foreclosure.
The first pandemic eviction moratorium passed as part of the federal CARES Act in March 2020. Legislators wanted to soften the blow of economic shutdowns on households and to keep homeless shelters and other communal living spaces from becoming COVID-19 hot spots. As the initial eviction ban expired, the CDC took over with its moratorium. By the time the Supreme Court struck it down, some landlords had gone 17 months without the power to evict people who didn’t pay their rent.
Predictions of an eviction apocalypse once the CDC moratorium expired have not yet come to pass. Data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab show evictions on the rise in 11 of the 31 major U.S. cities it tracks since the end of the CDC moratorium. But the number of eviction filings each week is still lower than before the pandemic in all but one of those cities, Gainesville, Fla.
Some states have moved on their own to respond to the problem. Austin, Texas, and New York have independently reinstated contested eviction bans. Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York extended an eviction moratorium through Oct. 3, and the state’s largest landlord association filed a lawsuit to revoke it.
Howard Husock, senior fellow of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, believes small-business landlords bore the worst consequences of the eviction moratorium. The National Apartments Association agrees: In July, the organization filed a lawsuit against the CDC arguing the eviction moratorium violated Fifth Amendment rights by taking property without compensating owners. It also sued the government agency for overstepping its authority laid out in the Public Health Service Act, which Bush and Warren are trying to amend.
“The health rationale is a fig leaf for a view of the world proffered by progressives who are skeptical that eviction should ever occur,” Husock said. “This is an attempt to use a tragedy to advance a progressive housing goal which is ill-advised in the first place.”
A different form of pandemic relief exists that not only can prevent evictions, but also helps renters and landlords. In December 2020, Congress released $25 billion in the first round of emergency rent assistance. President Joe Biden’s follow-up economic package added $21.55 billion in March for a grand total of $46.5 billion sent to states for distribution to renters who were behind on their payments. But every state adopted a different approach, and as of July, only $5.1 billion had reached the bank accounts of people needing a financial boost. According to the National Equity Atlas, Virginia is the only state to distribute at least 50 percent of its allocated rental aid so far. Texas received nearly $2 billion for the first phase of emergency funding and dispersed 46 percent of it as of Aug. 30. New York was granted just over $1.2 billion and has yet to exceed 1 percent distribution.
In most states, both a renter and a property owner must complete online or paper aid applications, undergo reviews, and navigate complex online applications requiring video tutorials to explain the red tape. Husock thinks a similar approach used for the Payment Protection Program would be better: Property owners can fill out an application demonstrating need and the bank will send a check.
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