Pandemic’s Economic Downturn Puts Renters at Immediate Risk of Eviction

Eviction notice/credit: bigstock.

One in five of the 110 million Americans who live in renter householders are at risk for eviction by the end of September, as the effects of the economic downturn stemming from the pandemic continue.

According to an estimate developed by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project (CEDP), 19 to 23 million renter households face eviction risk by the end of the third quarter of 2020. The CEDP is a coalition of economic researchers and legal experts.

The model used by CEDP co-founder Sam Gilman, a student at Harvard Law School, to develop the estimate includes data on renter households’ income, savings and housing cost burdens. A household is cost-burdened if it spends more than 30 percent of income on housing costs.

The model also accounts for new income including federal stimulus payments, enhanced unemployment insurance payments, and state unemployment insurance in the 50 states plus Washington, D.C.

The model predicts that 19 million Americans would be at risk for eviction by September 30 if their unemployment rate is 25%, and 23 million if their unemployment rate is 30%, according to a report by the Aspen Institute written by Katherine Lucas McKay, senior program manager for insights and evidence at the Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program; Zach Neumann, senior project manager for the institute’s Future of Work Initiative, and Gilman.

“Mass evictions would be a disaster,” the authors assert.

Renter households are less prepared to weather the economic downturn, the authors wrote, citing a January study by the Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program that found that renter households have lower incomes than average and more debt relative to their income, fewer assets and lower liquid savings.

That Financial Security Program report also found that the number of households experiencing instability was relatively small, but an eviction leads to severe and long-lasting harm to their financial security, health, education and well-being.

McKay, Neumann and Gilman also note that the “pain of eviction” is not distributed evenly, since tenants’ rights and eviction laws very. They note that of the 25 large U.S. cities with the highest eviction rates, six are in Virginia and five in North Carolina. Discrimination also plays a part, with Black and Latinx people experiencing higher rates of eviction, and other groups also in jeopardy including the disabled, people who were formerly incarcerated, the undocumented, and LGBTQ individuals.

“Notably, these same groups have been hard-hit by COVID-19 and have higher-than-average unemployment rates. An eviction avalanche would have disastrous results, not only for millions of families but also for hard-hit regions and the pace of economic recovery,” the authors wrote.

Policymakers have time to avert disaster if they take steps to keep renters in their homes, most effectively by paying their rent or providing ongoing cash transfers, with the federal government ideally funding that assistance, the authors wrote.

Some states, counties and cities have already established short-term emergency rental assistance programs, but the authors suggest that state and local policymakers can also extend eviction moratoria and implement other measures such as requiring landlords to accept repayment of past-due rent over at least six months.

The CEPD report also provides state-by-state estimates that can be used by state and local policymakers in formulating assistance programs.

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