An Eviction Crisis Is Looming, Government Ceases to Respond

Published on September 1, 2020

An estimated 30-40 million Americans are at risk of eviction in the coming months. This comes amidst an ongoing economic and health crisis, while the White House and Congress have ceased to act rationally.

The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, secured a 120-day federal eviction moratorium for renters enrolled in federal housing assistance programs or who live in properties with federally backed mortgages. Protections in the CARES act also paused foreclosures for struggling homeowners with federally-backed mortgages. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the federal moratorium only covered between 12.3 to 19.9 million households–less than half of all renter households.

A Looming Crisis

Studies in cities nationwide have shown that people of color are twice as likely to be renters. They also comprise around 80 percent of those facing evictions. This is a multipronged crisis devastating the American working class, given that COVID-19 has disproportionately afflicted people of color and the economic fallout is punishing lower-and-middle-income households. As of July, one in five renters were behind on their rent, with black and Latino households struggling the most.

Decreases in rental income for landlords could lead to foreclosures, which would in turn increase evictions and decrease affordable housing. Small landlords spend at least half of their rental income on mortgage payments, property taxes, and property insurance. Big-name banks such as Bank of America have reportedly misled homeowners with claims of mortgage relief. However, often this ‘mortgage relief’ actually means a deferment of payments that after three months must be paid in full, no excuses.

Calls for a Universal Basic Income throughout the pandemic have come from former Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who championed the idea. Many Democratic Senators and Representatives have also argued for prolonged stimulus payments as the pandemic rages on. Estimates by the Congressional Budget Office suggest unemployment will remain above 10 percent for the next year. With direct links between evictions and poverty, now is the time to act and secure a viable economic future for millions of Americans facing financial ruin and homelessness.

Necessary Government Intervention

The $600 per week enhanced unemployment benefit has become a partisan talking point in recent months. Many on the right claim it encourages workers to avoid returning to low-paying jobs. This critique is distorted while we’re in the worst public health crisis in a century with massive unemployment. What is irrefutable is that the added $600 weekly benefit has kept our consumer-driven economy afloat while keeping many out of poverty. With this crucial benefit now eliminated, the potential for many to become impoverished and be evicted has increased. The Republicans in Congress are proving unwilling to preserve the economic stability and social dignity of millions of citizens.

President Trump is touting executive orders encouraging workfare, endangering Social Security and Medicare, and offering to merely consider eviction protections. While tens of millions of Americans face unemployment, lack of health coverage, and an eviction crisis, it appears Congress is mostly satisfied doing nothing for American citizens.

Senator Bernie Sanders has continuously called out Republicans and President Trump for their unwillingness to continue the full $600/week unemployment benefit. The former Presidential candidate tweeted, “Sad but not surprising. The Senate GOP chose to let $600 a week in unemployment benefits expire for 30 million Americans but had no problem giving the pentagon another $740 billion. We need new national priorities. Let’s stand with workers, not the Military-Industrial Complex.”

The Harsh Reality

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the collective wealth of U.S. billionaires has increased by more than $580 billion. Technology and e-commerce stocks including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and others have all reached record highs. As tens of millions face mounting crises, the stock market continues to over-perform and misrepresent desperate situations across Main street. In June, the Federal Reserve reported that more than $6.5 trillion in household wealth has vanished due to the Coronavirus crisis. The Treasury Department also created a $4.5 trillion slush fund for the investor class to ensure stock-market stability.

Far too many Americans have experienced a dreadful economy since the Great Recession and are now facing the looming eviction crisis. The government could enact a prolonged eviction moratorium and prevent an increase in poverty and homelessness. While the government has been unable to handle the pandemic, it could mitigate the economic consequence of this crisis on the working class. The pandemic is no fault of their own. The responsibility of our government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens.

Acknowledging that those compensated in the market the least are actually our most essential workers is a good start. However, it is past time we start valuing them in a way representative of that view.

Artin is a Champlain College graduate with a degree in Management and Innovation. He is focused on examining and writing on smart cities, sociocultural, political, and economic topics.

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