Sep 14, 2020 - Axios on HBO

Renters are still in eviction limbo

The nationwide halt on most evictions is a Band-Aid for millions of renters who are at risk of losing their homes, Matthew Desmond, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor who leads Princeton University's Eviction Lab, said in an interview with "Axios on HBO."

Why it matters: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's order halting evictions expires on Dec. 31 — throwing more uncertainty into the lives of renters who could still owe months' worth of rent without any improvement in their hopes of finding a job.

What he's saying: "[F]rom a tenant's point of view, this eviction moratorium is a giant reprieve. But it doesn't solve their problem, which is, 'What am I going to do when my bill comes due?'" Desmond said.

  • States and cities are setting up their own rental assistance funds to help residents pay rent — but the money hasn't been enough to keep up with demand. In Houston, $15 million worth of rental aid dried up in just two hours.
  • "It's like we have a problem and that problem has stage four cancer. And then we give it two aspirin and we wonder why it doesn't work," said Desmond, who believes a new stimulus package from Washington is necessary to shore up landlords and tenants.

Between the lines: "If the economy is still in the place it is right now, if the virus is still rampaging the country, then we're going to be in deep trouble" if the CDC order isn't extended beyond the end of the year, Desmond said.

The other side: "There could be a case where the moratorium gives tenants enough time to get back on their feet and it gives landlords an incentive to work with those tenants," Desmond said.

  • But evictions could spike in the new year if the economy doesn't pick up and tenants are still thousands of dollars behind in rent.

The big picture: Both the pandemic and its economic effects have hit Black people and Latinos, who are much more likely to rent than other racial groups, particularly hard.

  • "Most white families in America are homeowners. And they're kind of shielded from the eviction crisis. So this has a giant racial dimension and it has a giant poverty dimension," Desmond says.

The state of play: The CDC's action comes as a patchwork of eviction moratoria put in place by state and local governments were beginning to expire (or had already expired) across the country.

  • The gap between the Trump administration's order and states' individual actions left renters vulnerable to eviction — even as medical experts warned that people are safest from the virus in their homes.
  • When statewide protections expired, places like Milwaukee saw spikes in eviction filings higher than the city's historical average, according to Eviction Lab's database.

Of note: Eviction court was "business as usual" in parts of the country at the height of the coronavirus outbreak, with some states moving eviction hearings "to Zoom or the telephone," Desmond said.

The bottom line: Housing experts and activists are still bracing for the "tsunami of evictions" they anticipated before the CDC's order. For now, it looks like it has just been put off a little longer.

Go deeper: Fears grow of an eviction apocalypse

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