(CN) — Cancel rent campaigns, millions at risk of eviction, prospective homebuyers shut out by high prices. U.S. housing is in upheaval, but President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to give it fresh legs.
Tanisha Swinton, 43, of Houston, is scheduled for trial in January in her eviction case. But she's determined to avoid it by catching up on rent, all $5,000 of it.
"I'm in full work mode. I'm trying to get two jobs. I'm trying to make sure I have it all paid," said Swinton, who recently found work with a health care company making calls to patients after she was laid off due to the pandemic.
After months of living in extended-stay hotels with her two daughters, she thought she'd found stability when she rented a three-bedroom home in July and moved in, taking the landlord at her word she would fix the place up.
But her landlord stopped sending maintenance men over after she missed a few rent payments, leaving the interior in shambles with rainwater in the ceiling she believes may have sprouted mold that's to blame for her 12-year-old daughter's constant headaches.
"I still have walls that are unpainted, doors that aren't fixed, I mean the ceiling looks like it's about to cave in the living room. I mean it's just unreal," she said in a phone interview.
Charitable organizations tried to help. They offered to pay $2,200 of her rent, but her landlord rejected it, opting instead to pursue eviction. And Swinton could not receive the aid directly, it had to go straight to her landlord.
She cannot be evicted until January thanks to a September order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meant to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Renters who attest in a sworn declaration to losing much of their household income, not being able to pay rent and that eviction would leave them homeless or force them to live in cramped quarters with relatives, qualify for a reprieve through the end of the year.
The form saved Swinton at an eviction hearing last month from a judge ready to move on her.
"She was getting ready to put me out. She gave me 10 days and I spoke up. I said, 'They aren't taking my form. They're not working with me on payments,'" said Swinton, who had no attorney representing her.
"So she said, 'No they can't reject the form. They have to take the form.'"
Swinton is one of more than 6.5 million U.S. renters at risk of eviction, according to a Nov. 19 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law.
Urging Congress to pass rental assistance legislation before lawmakers recess for Christmas break, the report estimates the downstream public costs of a wave of evictions would be $62 to $129 billion.
That includes emergency shelter for the displaced; medical care, as the stress of homelessness aggravates their medical conditions or leads to Covid-19 infections; foster care of children removed from their parents; and juvenile detention costs, as homeless children are more likely to be arrested.
Biden wants to help renters stay in their homes. A former public defender, the president-elect says he'll push for passage of the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act, which would help tenants get lawyers for eviction cases and encourage local governments to start eviction diversion programs.
Counsel for eviction cases is hard to find for tenants even in Houston, seat of Harris County, with its dozens of law firms, three law schools and numerous legal aid groups.
"In Harris County there are 48 evictions per day, and, this year, more than nearly 27,000 eviction cases have been filed. Attorneys represent less than 3% of tenants in eviction proceedings," Harris County's chief administrator Lina Hidalgo said Thursday in a statement, citing reports by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.