Evictions multiply in the form of assistance, protections disappear

Jada Riley thought she had overcome homelessness.

The 26-year-old was finally earning a steady income cleaning houses during the pandemic to afford a one-bedroom apartment for $700 a month. But she lost almost all of her customers after Hurricane Ida hit last year. Then she was laid off from a job at a grocery store in February after taking leave to help a relative.

Two months behind on rent, she made the difficult decision last month to leave her apartment rather than risk an eviction judgment on her case. Now she lives in her car with her 6-year-old son, sometimes spending nights with friends or with her son’s father.

“I have already slept outside for a whole year. It’s very depressing, I’m not going to lie,” said Riley, who often doesn’t have enough money for gas or food every day.

“I don’t want my son to know the hardships I went through.”

Eviction requests nationwide have risen steadily in recent months and are approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels in many cities and states. This stands in stark contrast to the pandemic, when state and federal moratoria on evictions, combined with $46.5 billion in federal emergency rental assistance, kept millions of families housed.

“I really think that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Shannon MacKenzie, executive director of the Colorado Poverty Law Project, said of June’s Denver filings, which were about 24% higher than in the same period three years ago. “Our number of evictions is increasing every month at an astonishing rate, and I just don’t see it going down anytime soon.”

According to The Eviction Lab, several cities are performing well above historical averages, with Minneapolis-St. Paul up 91% in June, Las Vegas up 56%, Hartford, Connecticut up 32% and Jacksonville, Florida up 17%. In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, eviction filings in July were the highest in 13 years, officials said.

Some lawyers said the sharp rise in house prices due to inflation was partly to blame. Nationwide rental prices are up nearly 15% from a year ago and nearly 25% from 2019, according to real estate firm Zillow. Rental vacancy rates, meanwhile, fell to 5.8%, their lowest level in 35 years, according to the Census Bureau.

A report released last month by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a tenant working full-time needs to earn nearly $26 an hour on average nationwide to afford a modest two-bedroom rental. and $21.25 for a bedroom. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

“Landlords are raising the rent and making it very unaffordable for tenants to stay,” said Marie Claire Tran-Leung, eviction initiative project director for the National Housing Law Project.

“Inflation has really reduced the supply of available housing for people on the lowest incomes,” she added. “Without more protections in place, which not all states have, many of these families will be left homeless.”

Patrick McCloud, chief executive of the Virginia Apartment Management Association, said the trend is back to normal. “Nobody likes the evictions, but they’re sort of a reset of the economy,” McCloud said, adding that the evictions were “artificially depressed.”

“Housing is based on supply and demand. And when no one is moving and there are no vacancies, the market is tight and prices go up.”

Graham Bowman, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Ohio, said evictions are rising there — 15% above historical averages in June alone — at a time when there are fewer places to those who are forced to leave.

Sheryl Lynne Smith was evicted from her two-bedroom townhouse in Columbus in May after she used her rent money to fix a sewer leak in the basement. Smith, who is legally blind and has a federal housing bond, fears she won’t be able to find anything by September when the bond expires due to rising housing prices and eviction on her record.

“It’s very scary,” said Smith, 53, whose temporary stay at a state-funded hotel ends this weekend.

In Boise, Idaho, Jeremy McKenney, 45, moved into his car last week after a judge sided with a property management company that nearly tripled the rent on his two rooms. The Lyft and DoorDash driver will need to rent a hotel room whenever he has custody of his children, 9 and 12.

“It’s truly mind-blowing,” McKenney said, adding that anything on the market is out of reach, even after a nonprofit offered to cover the security deposit. “I have never been homeless before. I’ve always had a roof over my head.

The other challenge is that the federal emergency housing assistance that has helped keep millions of people housed during the pandemic has dried up in some jurisdictions or been increasingly rejected by some landlords.

“What really appeals to me is that there is rent assistance and so many landlords just don’t want it. They’d rather throw someone out on the street than take money,” said Eric Kwartler, general counsel for Lone Star Legal Aid’s Eviction Right to Counsel Project, which covers Houston and Harris County in Texas.” If you take the money, you can’t kick them out. They want them out.

The US Treasury said last week that more than $40 billion of the $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance had been spent or allocated.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia have made at least 90% of their first payment. Twelve states and the District of Columbia had used 50% of the second allocation, known as ERA2, by the end of May. Three – Idaho, Ohio and Iowa – have not spent ERA2 money and two – Nebraska and Arkansas – have not accepted the funds.

“The public health emergency may still be here, but the funds to deal with it are rapidly disappearing,” said Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.

The Treasury is encouraging states and cities to tap into other federal stimulus funds to fill the gaps. So far, more than 600 state and local governments have earmarked $12.9 billion in stimulus funds to address housing needs, including the construction of affordable homes.

Gene Sperling, who oversees President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, highlighted the success of his rental assistance program, which has reached 7 million mostly low-income households. revenue.

But, more needs to be done to ensure the country doesn’t return to the pre-pandemic era when 3.6 million tenants were evicted each year and “evictions were too often a first resort, not a last resort” , he said at a forum on eviction reforms. at the White House last week.

Some lawmakers said the answer was a permanent rental assistance program. A bill introduced in July would provide $3 billion a year for housing assistance and fund services to keep families housed. A study commissioned by the National Apartment Association and the National Multifamily Housing Council says the answer lies in building 4.3 million apartments by 2035.

Other advocates have called for permanent legal protections like right to an attorney for tenants or eviction diversion programs to resolve evictions before they reach the courts.

In Richmond, Va., eviction claims in June were 54% lower than historical averages, attributed to housing assistance and greater legal representation for tenants in court, Wegbreit said. Similar programs have been credited with New Mexico’s eviction filings being 29% lower than historical averages in June.

Philadelphia, which passed a law mandating eviction diversion until this year, saw a 33% decline. The Philadelphia City Council also approved spending $30 million over two years for rental assistance.

“We’re trying to change the way we approach this issue in Philadelphia, where the only thing you do is go to landlord and tenant court or start an eviction,” said Philadelphia Lega attorney-in-charge Catherine Anderson. .

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