Before the pandemic hit, 34-year-old Andrew Perry of New Orleans worked in bars and did live sound engineering for shows. But now, with venues closed, Perry has struggled to find another job, even at minimum wage, while his unemployment benefits have been reduced to just $90 per week. He’s worrying about losing his home.
The temporary federal moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on residential evictions is set to expire on 31 December, leaving millions of Americans like Perry at risk of being evicted from their homes even as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise.
An estimated 12.4 million individual adult renters have reported they are behind on rent payments, based on the latest US census survey data, while nearly 83 million adults have reported struggling to afford expenses for basic necessities such as rent, mortgage, food, car payments, medical expenses or student loans in the past seven days. According to Moody’s Analytics, nearly 12 million renters in the US will owe an average of $5,850 in rent and utilities by January.
Perry’s landlord has already given notice they will evict him from his apartment when the CDC eviction moratorium ends.
“I had to sell my car for a fraction of the asking price so I could keep the power and water on in my house. I can’t afford new clothes or shoes for winter. I’m not eating three times a day,” said Perry. “I don’t see an end to this any time soon, and with no stimulus being announced, I’m starting to wonder if I will lose everything and be homeless again, the last time after Hurricane Katrina in 2006.”
The CDC moratorium on evictions is limited, and based on income eligibility and inability to pay rent. Landlords have continued to file eviction cases to be implemented once the moratorium ends and have engaged in other tactics to try to force those who are behind on rent out of their homes.
“There are holes and flaws in the order, and renters are suffering because of those flaws,” said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Yentel said the moratorium is not automatic and requires tenants to take action to be eligible for protections under it, but she said the federal government has done little to inform renters or enforce the moratorium’s protections, while rental assistance programs are widely depleted or non-existent.
“Rent is still due, and that rent is accruing along with utility bills and, in many cases, fees and penalties landlords are charging. That is why it is essential the eviction moratorium be paired with substantial emergency rental assistance,” Yentel added.
Dess Reign of Greensboro, North Carolina, just gave birth to her second child, but is currently facing eviction, even as her landlord refused to accept payments from North Carolina’s Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (Hope) program.
She lost her job as a call center representative when the pandemic hit in March, but it took until July to start receiving her first unemployment payments. When her initial unemployment benefits expired, her transition to pandemic unemployment assistance was initially denied and she’s still in the process of appealing it. Meanwhile, she hasn’t received any income since October.
“This system has completely failed us,” said Reign. “Nobody cares about the people in need. Landlords don’t care about evicting families, especially people with kids, and it’s sad. I have no family here. Where would I go if I get evicted with a newborn and a two-year-old?”
In St Augustine, Florida, Nicole Strunk and her husband have been in and out of court with their landlord, who managed to obtain a writ of possession on their home for 1 January, when the CDC moratorium ends.
I had to draw a Christmas tree on the wall. How do I explain to my daughter I had nothing to offer?
Strunk, who lost her job as a restaurant server when the pandemic hit, is still trying to obtain back pay owed to her from unemployment during the first few months of the pandemic, and recently claimed her last week of unemployment benefits that have now expired. Her husband lost his job in construction in June, and only receives $125 a week in pandemic unemployment assistance, which is set to expire on 26 December.
“What we’re figuring will happen is we’ll be served with the 48 hours’ notice to surrender the property, then store our belongings if we can,” said Strunk. “Then we’ll break our hearts by giving up our pup to a shelter, where he probably has no chance of survival due to his health issues, and we’ll live in our car, which is 26 years old, until something changes. That’s what we’re facing now.”
Kerrie Welch of Trenton, New Jersey, a mother of a four-year-old, lost her job in food service when the pandemic started. Her unemployment benefits pay just $231 a week now, and she hasn’t been able to find another job. She missed rent in November, and her landlord has told her he intends to file for eviction when the CDC moratorium expires.
“We will be homeless as soon as the CDC moratorium expires,” Welch said, who can’t afford to give her daughter Christmas gifts this year. “I had to draw a Christmas tree on the wall. How do I explain to my daughter I had nothing – nothing – to offer? It’s terrible and no one cares.”
In Wisconsin, Chris Donahoe, litigation and advocacy director of Legal Action Wisconsin, explained dozens of families have been evicted in the Milwaukee area despite the federal moratorium.
“They not only face all the collateral damage, the further descent into poverty, families being separated, school districts changing, but it also means they are at significant risk of contracting Covid,” she said.
A recent study published by researchers led by Dr Kathryn Leifheit at UCLA found over 10,000 deaths and as many as 433,700 coronavirus cases were caused by evictions from the beginning of the pandemic to early September, when the CDC eviction moratorium was enacted.
“Without further eviction moratoriums or rental assistance, families will have no options. It will be the middle of winter, in the worst stages of this pandemic, and they will be out on the streets, with an eviction on their record,” added Donahoe.