Black Renters Brace For Wave Of Evictions As Coronavirus Moratoriums Begin To Sunset
There are growing fears that a wave of evictions is coming for Black renters across the country.
July 03, 2020 at 3:26 pm
Black renters are preparing for the worst as courts begin to reopen and state eviction moratoriums begin to lapse across the country. Bloomberg noted in a feature on Wednesday that eviction bans in five different states expired on July 1 and the federal eviction moratorium will cease by the end of the month.
Despite the rules put in place to protect renters affected by the coronavirus pandemic, there are already signs that a reckoning is on the horizon.
A recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on evictions in Boston shows that many of the eviction cases that were filed since the start of the pandemic are focused heavily on the city's Black neighborhoods like Roxbury and Mattapan.
The Bloomberg article highlights that even with the federal eviction moratorium in place and a state order signed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in April, landlords still filed hundreds of evictions cases.
The problem may be even bigger than what's evidenced by the study, considering it only takes into account the evictions processed through legal means and not the many ways landlords have historically tried to forcibly coerce renters out of units.
"Over 2/3 (70%) of market-rate eviction filings are in census tracts where the majority of residents are people of color (even though only about half of city’s rental housing is in these areas). Over 1/3 (37%) of market-rate eviction filings occur in neighborhoods in which a majority of residents are Black (though only 18% of rental housing is in these neighborhoods)," the study stated.
"Market-rate eviction filings are more likely to occur in census tracts where there’s a larger share of Black renters, controlling for other variables in predictive models, such as median household income. During the COVID-19 pandemic and before the evictions moratorium, over 3/4 (78%) of all evictions filed in Boston were in census tracts where the majority of residents are people of color," the report found.
On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill that would institute a nationwide eviction moratorium until March 2021.
“Renters who have lost their job or had their income reduced shouldn’t have to fear losing their homes in the middle of a pandemic. Housing is a human right and an absolute necessity to keep families safe during this crisis, and Congress must step in now to help keep people in their homes,” Warren told Vox in a statement.
When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, the bill included a 120-day moratorium on evictions for tenants in federally assisted housing or in homes with federally backed mortgages that will lapse on July 25. But these protections applied to less than half of all rental units in the country, and Warren's new bill looks to extend the moratorium to almost all renters.
Despite the continuing coronavirus crisis, states have already started reopening housing courts, and while some states have tried to pass rules that would force landlords to give renters 30-day windows before they have to leave, the measures are a patchwork of bandaids that are leaving minority neighborhoods in grave danger.
Emily Benfer, a visiting professor at Columbia Law School and director of the Health Justice Advocacy Clinic, told Marketplace.org that many renters who were already living paycheck to paycheck are facing a disaster.
“We are on the precipice of an enormous eviction crisis, a housing crisis that will have societal consequences for the indefinite future unless we intervene immediately. These stopgap measures are just that. The moment that they’re lifted, renters who are already hard-pressed will struggle to maintain housing," Benfer said. "At that time, we will see the true magnitude of missed rent and debt that accrues each month, and will continue to grow and escalate."
Some cities and states have created rental assistance funds, but without a coordinated federal effort, experts have said a "tsunami" is coming.
“If there’s not a stimulus package that comes forward, what we’re going to see is rises in homelessness, a huge rise in instability for families, but it’s also going to rock the housing market. It’s going to hurt landlords, it’s going to hurt banks, it’s going to hurt the entire system of providing housing, both on the financial side and on the human side. Absent the federal government stepping in and providing significant rental assistance to people across the country, I really worry about housing stability for a large swath of the country,” Shamus Roller, executive director at the National Housing Law Project, told Marketplace.org.
The situation is exacerbated by the economy's slow return to normalcy, which has been stalled by the recent increase in coronavirus infections. More than 40 million people have filed for unemployment, and without housing, millions will be forced into homeless shelters or onto the street during a pandemic.
“Housing is paramount to preserving the public’s health, especially when the response to the pandemic has been to shelter in place. So the robustness of moratoriums is really important in order to protect public health, but also to stave off a second wave epidemic associated with a lack of safe and decent housing,” Benfer said.
Benfer created a detailed spreadsheet of eviction moratoriums in each state that summarizes the rules in each state and what efforts are being made across the country. But as economic stimulus bills languish in Congress and the $1,200 sent out in April runs out, families will be left with little recourse.
CNBC published a handy guide for those who will not be protected by the federal eviction moratorium that ends in August. Experts told CNBC that people who are fearing eviction should not leave their homes. There are a multitude of legal measures that can be taken before you physically have to leave. Anyone in fear of eviction should look through tenant union websites for the laws in their state and learn what their rights are.
Landlords have to go through a formal process before they can remove a tenant for non-payment of rent, according to CNBC. Tenants must be given advance notice of an eviction and should always have the chance to argue their case in court, experts told CNBC.
If possible, find a lawyer or organization to help you with the process. If you cannot afford a lawyer, many states have legal aid societies or nonprofit groups designed to help people in this specific situation, according to CNBC. Before you leave, make sure your building is not covered under the federal eviction moratorium. There are digital resources to help tenants figure out whether their homes are federally backed — like Fannie Mae and My Home by Freddie Mac.
Tech company UrbanFootprint released a report last month showing that the rent crisis could have effects felt for generations.
"Across the country, nearly 7 million households could face eviction without government financial assistance. These are heavily rent-burdened households that have likely experienced job loss as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. This level of displacement would be unparalleled in U.S. history and carries the potential to destabilize communities for years to come," the study said.
“The path back to pre-COVID economic activity and employment levels is unpredictable at best. This leaves the fate of many renters and communities in the balance,” the report found.
There are also multiple studies showing that historically, Black women are specifically targeted by landlords in eviction cases. In many states, these court proceedings are designed to be confusing and nearly impossible to win for tenants without a lawyer. In a series of tweets on Wednesday, an unidentified graduate student in Omaha, Nebraska, showed how confusing eviction cases are for average people and how they are designed to help landlords.
The thread includes tweets on multiple cases that end in the same way, highlighting how the system is stacked against most people.
a man being evicted is asked by the judge if he has evidentiary issues with the argument that he owes rent. tenant says he doesn’t know what that means but his wife died and he hasn’t gotten his covid payments. judge asks again if he has evidentiary concerns, grants the eviction.— t.s. 🏴 ☭ (@anarchotrash) July 1, 2020
"These are just the tenants who have shown up. numerous names have been called and the evictions granted for tenants who aren’t here. the only cases that tenants have 'won' are the ones who had a lawyer from legal aid who helped them enter a settlement. no outright tenant wins," the Twitter user wrote.