US eviction crisis: Joe Biden’s eviction moratorium is only a temporary fix

By Charlotte Robinson

OVER the last few decades, US wages have not been rising at the same level as housing costs – and many Americans are spending well over half of their pay packets on rent.

The Biden administration has proposed $318 billion for affordable housing in The American Jobs Plan – but whether it passes into legislation remains to be seen.

The lockdowns and economic downturn brought about by Covid-19 made many fall behind on their rent and mortgage repayments.

There is no federal database to register evictions in the US, which makes it difficult to ascertain the true extent of the eviction crisis. In the absence of such a registry, states have been left with no system of determining who is eligible for rental assistance.

This combined with the fact that many renters are unaware of their eligibility, or unsure how to utilize it, has left many at an unnecessary risk of eviction.

In February and March Congress allocated over $45 billion in rental assistance to states, but this money has been slow to roll out.

“There’s a host of reasons” Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, investigative reporter for Connecticut Public told Redaction Report. “One of the things I’ve heard is that they were requiring a lot of paperwork to be filled out, they weren’t just letting people attest that they’d lost their jobs.”

“And a lot of landlords were not eager to participate earlier in the pandemic – that changed more recently when the Governor here (Connecticut) announced that in order to evict someone you have to apply for rental assistance first.”

The rate of evictions in Connecticut has remained low since the first state-wide moratoriums were enacted as part of the CARES Act, much as they have done in other states. However, interestingly they were steadily rising since September 2020 – despite that month seeing the CDC moratorium enacted.

The profound lack of data across the US led to Matthew Desmond, a Pulitzer prize-winning Professor of Sociology setting up The Eviction Lab – presently the Lab tracks the eviction filings of 6 states and 31 cities.

The eviction crisis is a vast and complex issue, and needs a multifaceted response – as the old saying goes, ‘What gets measured, gets managed’, and a federal rental registry could provide one such facet.

A rental registry would require landlords to register their realty with a governmental body, and provide contact information, the rental cost, and the number of tenants etc.

A registry could also ensure that landlords are aware of current housing law, and that tenants are in receipt of information concerning their rights and what help is available to them.

The collation of paperwork has held up funds reaching those in need, and again a rental registry would have removed this barrier, as the government would already be in possession of this paperwork.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas raises a further point: “We’re just talking about formal evictions, we’re not talking about people who were pressured to leave their houses.

“Their landlords said ‘Hey you’re behind on your rent you need to leave’, and instead of fighting them on it they would just leave. We’ll never know how many of those informal evictions happened.”

The CDC moratorium prevents eviction on the basis of non-payment of rent, but there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest that landlords keen to evict have been able to find other reasons, such as crime or a public safety issue, to do so.

In September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a moratorium to prevent evictions and foreclosures from going forward, on the grounds that they would prompt movement, and therefore transmission, of the virus.

The moratorium had been extended several times, and was due to expire July 31st until the progressive wing of the Democratic party took action. The Biden administration had been reluctant to grant an extension after a string of court rulings had indicated the CDC had acted outside its authority, and the House of Representatives moved to adjourn for a 7-week recess, instead of taking a vote on an extension.

It seemed that in the rush to get to their vacation homes, some House members were neglecting the millions of Americans that could have been evicted from their only homes.

Progressive Democrats organized a public protest on the steps of the US Capitol building to bring awareness to the risk facing millions, with Rep. Cori Bush even sleeping there, and later being joined by the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Miraculously after previously stating that he was ‘powerless’ to issue an extension, Biden managed to regain some of his powers and ask the CDC to look at other options.

This current extension now remains in effect until October 3, and whilst the figures aren’t exact, it’s estimated that 11.5 million Americans are behind on their rent. 

Many commentators have argued President Biden sought the extension to buy time, knowing that it could be struck down in the courts as unconstitutional – however regardless of its lifespan, neither the CDC moratorium, nor that of the individual state’s, are a long term solution to the housing crisis in the US.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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