No one knows exactly how many tenants are at risk, but the Census Bureau reported this week that it’s highly likely that more than a million people will be evicted over the next two months for rent defaults, with millions more in arrears and delinquent payments. .
With no legal avenues to take action on its own, the Biden administration on Friday made a plea to state and local officials to do more to help.
In a letter, top cabinet members urged governors, mayors, district administrators and judges and administrators to extend local eviction moratoria. The letter from Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen; Marcia L. Fudge, the secretary of housing and urban development; and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland; also asked them to enact policies that would require landlords to apply for federal aid before enforcing evictions and advised to delay evictions while rent aid applications were pending.
The problems facing the Biden administration with its $46.5 billion emergency rent relief program were apparent this week, as Treasury Department figures showed that 89 percent of the money had yet to be distributed by state and federal government officials. local authorities. Only $1.7 billion reached tenants or landlords in July as states and cities continue to struggle to streamline application processes.
With the court’s decision pending, the Treasury Department made changes to the program on Wednesday, including additional efforts to exempt local governments from federal penalties if they provide money to those who don’t actually need help. The agency has issued a directive to local officials that they allow tenants to use self-reported financial information on aid applications as a first, rather than a last resort, while allowing states to make bulk payments to landlords and utilities pending federal action. payments to tenants.
Supreme Court ruling divided lawmakers along party lines on Friday, with Republicans applaud the decision and Democrats demanding legislative action to address a looming eviction crisis.
A group of progressive House Democrats wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, calling on congressional leaders to include an extended moratorium that would last until the end of the pandemic in upcoming legislation. An attempt by the House Democrats to extend the eviction ban failed in July.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Friday that Mr. Biden would welcome action from Congress. Beyond that, she said the White House was focused on finding other ways to ease the burden on tenants by encouraging postponing evictions and getting financial aid out the door faster.
A senior White House official said there were no long-term measures the government was waiting to implement. It will continue to look at whether agencies like HUD can do more to stop evictions and accelerate efforts to get states to pump out aid money faster.
The wave of evictions comes at a fragile time for the economic recovery as the fiscal support approved by Congress during the early stages of the pandemic is waning.
The effect on tenants “will vary wildly from state to state and city to city,” said Diane Yentel, the chairman of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
In some states, such as California, New Jersey and Virginia, tenants will be allowed to stay in their homes temporarily thanks to statewide protections.
In a statement Friday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul derided the Supreme Court decision as “appalling and insensitive.” The state is considering convening a special session of the state legislature to protect residents from eviction.
But in other states, especially where evictions have already been filed through the courts, people can quickly lose their homes.
The eviction process can take a few days in some states to weeks or months in others. But Ms Yentel said she expected many tenants to leave their homes before undergoing a formal eviction process in an effort to avoid evictions on their record, which would make it more difficult to find housing in the future. find.
It has been clear to renters in many states for months that they are on their own.
Texas judges have been serving evictions since March, when the state’s Supreme Court refused to renew an injunction giving judges the power to enforce the CDC moratorium. After a federal court in Tennessee ruled the moratorium illegal in July, judges in parts of Tennessee and Ohio have allowed eviction proceedings to continue.
Elsewhere, landlords have been able to circumvent the moratorium by citing reasons other than non-payment of rent as a justification for eviction.
The struggle to get help to tenants is in many ways just an illustration of a fact that has been true for decades: The United States has never had or attempted to build a national-level system to keep its citizens safe in their homes. Now it is trying to establish one during a pandemic, with predictable results.
While rent relief is now flowing much faster — California has more than quadrupled its rate of payments since June — many of the country’s most vulnerable tenants live in informal housing arrangements such as illegal garage conversions or overcrowded single-tenant apartments, making it difficult for aid programs that often require leases are required.
Across the country, news of the moratorium’s end filled struggling tenants with fear.
Brian Fitzpatrick, 59, fell behind on the monthly rent of $550 for his one-bedroom apartment in St. Louis after his unemployment benefits expired and he was unable to return to work after suffering broken ribs from a fall.
He applied for housing benefit, but said he had not yet received a response.
“You could be sitting here thinking everything is fine and then you get the sheriff at the door saying ‘you have to get out’,” he said.
Alan Rappeport message from Washington, Sophie Kasakovic from New York, and Conor Dougherty from San Francisco.