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Tomorrow, the national CDC eviction moratorium expires and housing advocates are warning that the U.S. is about to see a massive flood of evictions and a devastating surge of homelessness, as the ban was the only barrier protecting millions of jobless tenants all across the country. The CDC order has been in place since March 2020, first issued in order to prevent people from living in the streets during the peak of the health crisis. But in many cases, due to legal loopholes in the CDC document, many people were not covered by the moratorium and were left without a home anyway. Now, millions of American families who financially struggled throughout the past year are at risk of losing their homes and possibly facing another painful strike in their finances as they are expected to pay thousands of dollars in back rent. “We’re expecting a wave of evictions, eviction apocalypse, eviction tsunami, whatever you want to call it,” said Amara Lang, a member of an Autonomous Tenants Union.
Over the last 18 months, the moratorium allowed tenants to only pay what they were able to pay, but as of Saturday, all renters will be required to cover their full rent. Some workers who lost their jobs or had to stop working due to health issues, or to take care of their children and relatives, managed to get a temporary reprieve. But in a couple of days, they will have a massive debt hanging over them. Hayden Harwood, another member of the Autonomous Tenants Union, highlighted that the end of the moratorium will disproportionately affect the country’s most vulnerable and low-income communities. “Essentially we’re preparing for the worst because, despite the eviction moratorium, rent has been accruing,” Harwood said.
In recent months, the US living expenses soared to the highest levels in nearly three decades, with housing costs leading that hike. Home prices jumped 20% compared to the same period a year ago. And in some major US cities, rents shoot up by an even higher percentage than housing, having surged by 24% year-on-year. In South Carolina, for example, renters in more than 119,000 households across the state could be forced to move starting tomorrow. A national study indicated that 30% of South Carolinian tenants fell behind on rent, with an average rent debt of $4,798 compared to a national average of $3,800.
By having such an elevated debt, many of these tenants are not only on the verge of losing their homes for good but also at the brink of a poverty spiral. Evictions are not exclusively a symptom of poverty, they can make someone who always had a comfortable lifestyle face a hurtful collapse in their living standards. The consequences of eviction can be extremely traumatic and it can push an entire family down to a financial cliff. However, many extensions to the moratorium were already put in place, and after it expired on July 31, the new administration said it won’t grant any further extensions, which puts roughly 12.7 million people in deep uncertainty regarding their housing situation.
Even in states that received billions in federal aid to prevent an eviction crisis, the outlook isn’t any good. For instance, in Washington, the state that has some of the strongest protections for renters across the nation, 319,816 people said to have “no or slight confidence they could make next month’s rent payment in late June and early July,” according to the Census. While 1.4 million people said they had difficulty paying for their usual household expenses just in the past week. On the other hand, for landlords, filing an eviction notice is frequently an act of financial despair — one of the last resorts they have to regain some financial control after over a year of non-payment. A report from the Washington Post published this week, underscored that from the 10 million to 11 million small landlords in the U.S., at least one-third are at risk of bankruptcy or foreclosure because of unpaid rents.
Eventually, a reckoning would have to occur. But at this very moment, when virus cases have started to tick up again all over the country due to the more contagious variant of the virus, the end of the moratorium may mark the beginning of a new wave of confirmed cases, which will not only derail the reopening of the economy but also threaten millions of lives. The question is how does this thing ultimately end? If America witnesses an eviction avalanche we will face a humanitarian, economic, and health crisis that will have a huge cost to our society.