CDC Eviction Ban Isn't Enough
Time is running out for the government to prevent a housing catastrophe.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a federal eviction moratorium to temporarily halt residential evictions through the end of the year in order to contain the spread of COVID-19. Last month, as part of the new relief bill, Congress extended the moratorium to the end of January.
Offering immediate relief to up to five million households is a step in the right direction, but what happens after the moratorium expires in less than 30 days?
Roughly one in five adult renters recently reported that they have not caught up with their payments. The country’s minority populations, especially, are disproportionately affected by COVID-induced housing instability; almost one-third of Black renters are behind on rent. The government’s piecemeal efforts leave unresolved the predicament still facing millions of families, who will soon be forced out of their homes in the middle of a pandemic.
Let’s not forget that the so-called eviction ban is not a real ban and merely delays the crisis. People will still be required to pay the back-rent they owe after the moratorium is lifted. Moreover, landlords are permitted to force tenants into eviction proceedings, as long as the evictions are not executed. Since March, landlords have filed more than 162,000 eviction cases in the 27 cities monitored by Eviction Lab, a research center at Princeton University. Waiting for us in February are overwhelmed courts and overcrowded streets.
There is a direct correlation between evictions and COVID-19 deaths. Displaced families often end up homeless or in overcrowded living conditions, leading to increased transmission risks. According to a recent study of state-level eviction bans before the CDC order came into effect, the expiration of these moratoriums in some states was associated with more than 433,000 COVID-19 cases and 10,000 deaths.
While lawmakers have started a $25 billion rental assistance fund for state and local governments to give out to low-income renters in the coming months, the amount is pitifully inadequate. In fact, experts said at least $100 billion is needed to cover all the back-rent owed.
What’s more, America’s longstanding housing challenges run much deeper than COVID-19. Right now, the country has a gaping affordable housing shortage of about seven million units. A majority of extremely low-income families are spending more than half of their household income on rent.
The pandemic may come to an end in the new year, but it will take much longer for the economy to get back to full health. Merely offering one-time assistance will not prevent families from losing their homes in the long term.
A few months back, Joe Biden made an ambitious proposal to invest $640 billion into affordable and quality housing over the next 10 years. The money would come from corporate tax increases for large companies and financial institutions, according to his housing platform. This needs to be a top priority for the new Democratic-controlled Congress.
Records from the past show housing rarely takes precedence over other issues like healthcare, education and transportation –– all of which are in similarly desperate need of assistance. And COVID-19 has created competition for federal resources.
But if the government does not move fast to fill the gaps, we will soon experience one of the worst eviction crises this country has ever seen.