The "eviction crisis" is looming this month

When the pandemic first hit and emergency relief measures were being passed in a flurry of political activity, it was obvious that a lot of renters could find themselves in trouble pretty quickly. Lower-income residents who tend to live paycheck to paycheck, particularly in the cities where costs of living are higher, frequently found themselves out of a job. With the rent coming due and unemployment systems being overwhelmed leading to long delays in receiving benefits, it looked like we might be facing an actual “eviction crisis.” But actions taken at the federal, state and municipal levels put all evictions on hold for up to three months or more.

Now that period is drawing to a close. Texas was one of the first states to end its eviction moratorium, though some cities kept municipal executive orders along those lines in place. More states are about to reach the end of the protection period. So did those temporary measures do any good? NBC News reports that all we may have done is kick the can down an increasingly short road.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act that Congress passed in March provided a temporary moratorium on evictions, but it was for a fraction of the nation’s tenants and some homeowners — applying to those in federally subsidized housing or in housing with federally-backed mortgages. That is set to expire within the next month.

This has left courts and local governments in many places to create a patchwork of policies and ever-changing guidance around evictions, creating greater uncertainty and confusion amid the coronavirus pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic, 42 states and the District of Columbia had statewide moratoriums on evictions in place, covering millions of renters, but presently, a little more than a dozen states have some kind of eviction protections in place, Emily Benfer, a law professor at Wake Forest University, said.

Almost everyone seems to agree that something needs to be done, but there is precious little agreement about what that “something” should look like. California Representative Maxine Waters has introduced a bill in the house that would expand the federal moratorium on evictions and extend it until March of next year. Nobody seems to think that bill has any legs, however, and it’s expected to fail just as the so-called HEROES Act did in the Senate.

Such an extension at the federal level does nothing more than once again kick the can down the road while causing more and more damage in the private sector. I discussed some of the complexities dogging this situation when I wrote about the so-called “rent strikes” cropping up in many cities and how they will come back to hurt renters, along with most of the private sector.

Waters’ proposed extension might keep some renters in their apartments for a full year, but unless they are already back to work and/or have managed to secure long-term, enhanced unemployment benefits, they’re simply running up a massive bill from their landlords that will come due when the moratorium expires. In the meantime, landlords (the majority of whom are private individuals or small businesses with only a few properties) are losing ground on their own mortgages and facing the prospect of losing their investments entirely. (And removing the renter’s housing unit from the market in the process.)

It goes deeper than that. Property owners who are not receiving rent are not paying municipal taxes for schools, infrastructure maintenance and everything else the state and local governments do. This reduces the availability of local services to those being affected by the pandemic and the resultant economic downturn. It’s a vicious cycle.

But what do we do about it? Thus far the only “solution” being put forward seems to be heading out to the Rose Garden picking another trillion dollars off of the magical money tree that clearly must be growing there. If the federal government pays everyone’s rent so the landlords are paid and are then able to pay their taxes, etc. then the cart continues to rumble along. But paying the cost for the roughly 43 million rental units in the United States today quickly adds up to a seriously large percentage of our GDP. That system can’t continue for long before collapsing under its own weight while further driving up our deficits and debt.

What’s the real, viable solution? Don’t look at me. I’m just glad I didn’t run for high office anywhere because this is one problem I certainly wouldn’t want to drop in my lap.