(CN) — After a last-minute Congressional scramble on Friday failed to extend the federal eviction moratorium, the measure is set to expire Saturday, ending protections that have helped millions of Americans keep a roof over their head during an unprecedented medical emergency.
“It’s like the worst thing that can happen to a family,” said Zach Neumann, an attorney in Colorado, describing the toll of evictions on his clients.
After losing housing, families generally move into a vehicle or short-term living arrangement, like a hotel or shelter. The renters’ credit is often ruined, making it “impossible to rent on a normal lease cycle” thereafter, since landlords don’t want to lease to someone with an eviction record.
The debt of unpaid rent follows renters post-eviction. “So you’ve got debt collectors calling you, who are saying ‘Hey, you owe $5,000, $10,000 — and if you don’t pay us, we’re going to sue you.’”
Civil court judgment can then lead to even more collection calls, “and the whole time, you’re trying to juggle the balls of sending your kids to school, making it to work yourself.”
“It’s really hard to show up to work on time when you don’t have a home,” Neumann said.
As the executive director of the Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project, Neumann offers legal aid to people facing evictions, as well as landlord and tenant financial assistance and policy advocacy. He estimates he's served around 2,000 people in Colorado.
More than 6 million American households were behind on rent at the end of March, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That translates to roughly 3.6 million people facing eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Some estimates are even higher, though, extending into the tens of millions. There is no central registry tracking evictions, making it difficult to pinpoint trends and exactly how many Americans are dealing with the fallout of getting evicted from their homes.
Financial help is available through the federal government’s Emergency Rental Assistance program. But the process of disseminating that money has been slow, and — mirroring the pandemic response at large — greatly varied state-by-state.
“The number one thing that solves a nonpayment eviction is money. And the biggest problem in the U.S. right now is that the money takes too long to get out the door to clients,” Neumann said.
Changing federal guidelines to make it easier to process aid, then, would help to alleviate some of that lag, as would hiring more staff to ramp up the process “adding capacity to the system,” as Neumann put it.
As the much-needed funds slowly roll out, the temporary ban on nonpayment evictions — put in place last year in response to families’ increased financial strain during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the increased risk of virus spread associated with evictions and homelessness — had been staving off the potential for families facing the worst.
With its hands tied by a recent Supreme Court decision, and even as the delta variant causes a worrisome rise in coronavirus cases, that protection will slip away in a matter of hours.
Courts and the eviction moratorium
When it extended the eviction ban a month ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said it would be the last time for the extension. It would later become bound to that decision by a split ruling from the highest court.