By FRANKLIN ARTHUR
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the nation, America’s renters face another threat, as critical relief benefits of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, that have helped them stay in their homes and keep food on the table are set to expire in less than a month. If Congress doesn’t act to renew and strengthen these programs now, it could unleash a catastrophic wave of evictions across the country that would send the unhoused population skyrocketing – further destroying our economy in the process.
The additional $600 dollars a week in federal unemployment benefits provided by the CARES Act, as well as the federal and numerous state level bans on evictions, have stabilized the incredibly precarious situation of many unemployed Americans. However, the federal ban on evictions for those receiving Section 8 vouchers and those living in houses with federally backed mortgages ends on July 25. Many state level evictions have already timed out. Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Texas and 12 other states have begun to process eviction cases, threatening to throw vulnerable tenants out of their homes during a pandemic that is still present, even spiking in areas, and still very much lethal.
Tenants have already faced the brunt force of this economic crisis. Renters make up the majority of those who work in the service industry, which has been devastated by the stay-at-home orders, leaving them with few options for supplementing their income. On top of that, one third of American renters were unable to make their rent payments in April before unemployment aid was processed – if at all – leaving many with thousands of dollars in debt through no fault of their own. Over one million new unemployment claims continue to be filed each week.
Being evicted isn’t something you easily recover from, and in many cases, evictions lead directly to homelessness. Evictions decimate your credit score, which can make it difficult to pass the background check that is required in most leases. On top of that, most landlords will immediately reject applicants that have a record of previous evictions.
Beyond the extraordinary obstacles that evictions place on finding future housing, mass evictions will disproportionately devastate communities of color that are already reeling from a higher unemployment and death rate from COVID-19 than their White counterparts. Experts predict that homelessness will rise by 45% this year due to the conditions brought about by coronavirus, and this is simply an unacceptable number. We cannot afford to have one more unhoused person on the streets during a global pandemic, let alone hundreds of thousands.
The housing crisis has the potential to become significantly worse than the mortgage defaults of 2009. Before coronavirus arose, more than 2 million Americans were facing eviction every year – more than the number of people who experienced foreclosure in 2009. During the Great Recession, the economy plummeted because tons of middle- and lower-class people lost their jobs and their homes, and with the rates we’re seeing today, we will be facing an all out housing epidemic.
For many wealthy folks like myself, it’s easy to see the evictions crisis as a distant issue. This crisis has spared wealthy individuals. We can afford high-quality tests and health care if we get sick, the Federal Reserve has poured trillions into the stock market to keep our investments afloat, and certain individuals like Jeff Bezos have actually made a profit over the course of the pandemic. But make no mistake; if hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their homes and their jobs, it will affect everyone – no matter how high the gates are in your community. Regardless of where you fall on the income scale, society, as a whole does not function with a large segment of the population suffering as it is now.
In our consumer-driven economy, long-term economic success comes from the bottom up. If hundreds of thousands of Americans do not have roofs over their heads and a stable job our economy will not begin its needed path to recovery.
When Congress reconvenes in early July, housing stability needs to be one of the first issues addressed. Keeping people in their homes is not only a moral and health imperative during this crisis, but it’s also essential to keeping our economy on track and ensuring a speedy recovery. We need to cut the red tape surrounding federal rental assistance to ensure that everyone who needs assistance receives it, provide legal assistance to those who are currently facing eviction hearings, and place a universal, nationwide federally backed eviction moratorium until the crisis subsidies, rather than a confusing patchwork of state and local level mandates.
If we allow hundreds of thousands of American families and communities to lose their homes, risk being exposed to a deadly disease and be unable to return to work, the ramifications will ripple into the next generation and forever be a stain on this country and its leadership. This is simply unacceptable for a country founded on the principles of equality, liberty and justice for all. We must act now.
Frank Arthur is a Navy Veteran and worked in the U.S. Justice Department. He currently is a Real Estate Developer in California specializing in Transit Oriented Development and Affordable Housing. He recently joined as a member of the Patriotic Millionaires.