A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that nearly 7 million renter households face housing insecurity in the coming months.
Mary Taylor, 31, is a native of New York City. After spending some time in shelters, she now lives in a duplex in Brooklyn with two of her three young children, one of whom is autistic.
Last year, Taylor was in a car accident, which left her unable to work. She now relies on disability, which isn’t enough to cover all of her expenses. She owes several months of rent, and now her landlord is trying to force her out in the middle of a global health crisis.
Taylor is fearful and uneasy about what lies ahead. “I don’t know where to go. I have kids,” Taylor told COURIER. “I have nowhere to go.”
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Taylor is one of millions of Americans worried they could experience homelessness soon. In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) passed a temporary federal eviction moratorium for tenants facing financial hardship in order to prevent overcrowding at shelters, which could lead to further COVID-19 spread. That moratorium ends Dec. 31, which means landlords will once again be allowed to force out tenants who’ve fallen behind on rent.
A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) found that nearly 7 million renter households face housing insecurity in the coming months. “It’s very clear that if the federal government does not intervene soon, tens of millions of people are at high risk of losing their homes this winter during the height of COVID-19,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of NLIHC, told COURIER.
The federal eviction moratorium has otherwise been a rather successful public health measure, preventing an already bad situation from becoming worse by barring landlords from kicking out tenants during the pandemic.
According to a recent study, 10,000 deaths were directly linked to the lifting of various state eviction protections over the summer. Now, as COVID-19 case numbers continue to surge, an eviction protection will help struggling families across the United States stay in their homes.
An estimated 885,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims last week, the highest weekly total since September, the Department of Labor announced Thursday. In total, 20.6 million people received some type of unemployment benefits for the week ending Nov. 28. According to data released by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame, 7.8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since June.
The CDC’s moratorium—which has been enforced differently, depending on the state—prevents landlords from evicting their tenants who have made efforts to pay rent or have applied for rental assistance. Taylor’s situation, however, is different. Prior to the pandemic, she was living with her partner. They had an affordable housing voucher together. However, he tragically died due to a head injury right before the twin public health and economic crises gripped the country.
The couple was set to get married March 16—three days after President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency. When Taylor lost her fiancé, she lost her voucher.
“The CDC eviction moratorium is flawed, and there are holes which some renters are falling [into]. Some renters are being evicted despite the moratorium and its protections,” Yentel said.
According to the Eviction Tracking System as part of Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, more than 33,000 evictions have been filed in New York City alone since the start of the pandemic. Across 27 cities followed by researchers, that figure has surpassed 162,000.
Since Taylor’s partner passed, she’s been fighting to get her own affordable housing voucher. She’s working with RiseBoro, a social services community partnership in Brooklyn. They are a provider for Homebase, a program that aims to curb homelessness and housing insecurity in New York City.
Meanwhile, as the pandemic worsens and shutdowns loom once again, Americans are continuing to struggle with limited help from the federal government. A $600 weekly unemployment boost expired at the end of July, and more relief programs are slated to end in the coming weeks. As a result, more people are turning to groups like Riseboro for assistance.
“We have seen an increase in the number of clients reaching out to get services through the Homebase agency,” Shannon Osborne, assistant program director at RiseBoro, told COURIER. “We have seen more people reach out to get help prior to the moratorium expiring.”
There is no indication that any financial help from Congress will be more robust this time around either. The CARES Act passed in March included a one-time direct payment of $1,200 to individuals. Another coronavirus relief package currently being discussed by Congress, however, includes stimulus checks of only half that amount.
Ultimately, whatever aid Congress ends up passing in the coming days—if they even do so—won’t be particularly helpful to those who’ve lost their jobs and owe months of back rent. “Moratoriums on their own aren’t enough because eventually they do expire, and they create a financial cliff for renters to fall off when back rent is due and they can’t pay.” Yentel explained.
A COVID-19 relief bill is long overdue. The House passed the HEROES Act in May, which the Republican-controlled Senate failed to take up. Legislators negotiated for months to come up with a deal all while people like Taylor were left idle, facing the economic insecurity of the pandemic.
NLIHC is pushing a two-fold solution. “One is to improve, extend, and enforce the CDC eviction moratorium. The very least the government can do in the middle of a global pandemic is assure each of us that we are not going to lose our homes in the middle of it,” Yentel said. She added: “The eviction moratorium has to be paired with emergency rental assistance.”
Even as the country begins distributing a coronavirus vaccine, it will be months before anything close to resembling normalcy returns. The one silver lining for Taylor, though, is that New York City has some of the most pro-tenant laws on the books anywhere in the country.
That, however, only buys her—and the millions in similar situations across the country—a little time before she’s forced back into shelters with her children.