Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Housing instability —already a major issue across the United States—has been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. For individuals and families across the income spectrum, housing costs are becoming more burdensome. Combined with wage stagnation and slow housing production, the situation generally hasn’t been improving recently, illustrating that solutions must be long-term and large-scale.
As millions of Americans have lost their jobs, experienced reduced hours, or failed to obtain employment because of the pandemic, many have lost their ability to pay their rent or mortgage. Emily Benfer, co-creator of Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, estimated that in the following months, up to 28 million people may be evicted—more than triple the number who lost homes following the 2008 housing crisis.
While the CARES Act greatly reduced the number of evictions through an eviction ban on federally-backed properties, unemployment payments, and other financial relief, these protections are expiring and eviction filings have already began increasing. Many cities that enacted emergency eviction bans have also began lifting them, including Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Not only does it put families in significant danger to be homeless, but it also further increases the spread of the virus; sleeping on streets or in homeless shelters greatly increases their risk for transmission. But what are long-term solutions to prevent this crisis happening again during the next pandemic?
Secure Housing to Prevent Mass Evictions/Foreclosures
Due to historical disparities and intentionally discrimniatory government and private sector policies, there is a massive homeownership gap between whites and African Americans in the U.S.
One way to ensure more stability in housing is to ease the homeownership process and apply protections so that in financial emergencies, people’s homes are protected from foreclosure. In addition, zoning revisions that allow for more affordable units to be built on existing or smaller lots are necessary to help address the housing shortage. Current conditions are spurring higher-income buyers to purchase in traditionally lower-income neighborhoods, further exacerbating the homeownership gap and affordable housing shortage. .
A federal eviction ban was recently issued, but many renters currently facing eviction aren’t aware or don’t understand their rights.
In order for tenants to be covered under the ban, they must send a written declaration swearing that they have no other options for housing to the landlord—they’re not automatically covered. And this eviction ban doesn’t help those who have already been evicted. About 9,000 evictions have been filed in Houston alone during the pandemic.
Eviction bans are also an imperfect solution in that once they are lifted, back rent is owed. With about half of Americans severely or moderately rent-burdened, they will likely be unable to afford paying the back rent and will ultimately end up evicted.
An evicted home in Detroit, with all the tenant’s possessions sitting on the front lawn.
Although eviction bands can effectively prevent struggling residents from being evicted, they can cause significant issues for landlords who survive entirely on the income they make from their rentals. Additionally, if eviction bans are lifted and landlords can evict tenants short on rent and find new ones to supplement their income, those residents are left homeless or stuck in shelters/with family and friends in an unstable housing situation. A solution to prevent either of these scenarios would be government funding to pay back rent for struggling tenants so that both landlords and tenants can thrive.
Research has shown that rental assistance programs, when properly funded, can reduce homelessness and alleviate poverty.
Unfortunately, funding limitations mean that that majority of families in need of rental assistance never receive it, and with the pandemic causing a surge in unemployment and inability to pay rent, these programs are more important than ever before. Until life goes back to normal, renters will need assistance to avoid crisis.