An avalanche of evictions could weigh on American tenants

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EUCLID, Ohio – The United States, already in an unprecedented economic collapse for a generation, faces wave of evictions as aid payments and legal protections run out for millions Unemployed Americans who have few financial resources and little choice when looking for new housing.

The hardest hit are tenants who had low incomes and little savings even before the pandemic, and whose housing costs absorbed more of their wages. They were also more likely to work in industries where job losses were particularly severe.

Temporary government assistance helped, as did government orders that suspended evictions in many cities. But evictions will soon be authorized in about half of the states, according to Emily A. Benfer, housing specialist and associate professor at Columbia Law School, who follows eviction policies.

“I think we are going to go into a serious tenant crisis and very quickly,” said Professor Benfer. Without a new wave of government intervention, she added, “we will have an avalanche of evictions across the country.”

This means that more and more families may soon know the dreaded eviction notice on the front door, the head shot by the sheriff’s assistants, the goods piled on the sidewalk. They will face displacement at a time when people are still invited to stay at home to keep themselves and their communities safe.

This fear has plagued Sandy Naffah since she lost her income when the virus resulted in economic closings. Ms. Naffah, who had juggled two part-time jobs – teaching elementary school students to read and work as a beauty consultant in a mall – quickly fell behind the $ 800 she pays in rent each month for a one bedroom apartment in Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.

She is now looking into a precarious future, desperately hoping that a single federal stimulus check and unemployment benefits – which she said she had not yet received – will keep her afloat and prevent the eviction.

“It’s a clock,” she said. “I cannot continue on this path, otherwise I will be on the street. “

In many places, the threat has already started. The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled that evictions could start again in the country’s second largest state. In the Oklahoma City area, sheriffs apologized that they plan to start applying eviction notices this week. And a handful of states, such as Ohio, had few statewide protections to begin with, making residents particularly vulnerable as eviction cases accumulated or progressed during the pandemic .

Christie Wilson, 37, was among them. After fleeing a dangerous relationship, she said, she spent several months sleeping in her car last year before a veterans’ program helped her pay for a two-bedroom apartment in Decatur, Georgia. and had lined up a job in a warehouse.

But after two days at work, she said, she was laid off as the coronavirus epidemic intensified in March.

A few weeks later, she found an eviction notice at her door. She is now afraid of losing her apartment, where, in the fragile stability of the past few months, she has enjoyed small luxuries, such as listening to gospel music on her terrace in the morning and spending Mother’s Day in her own house with her son. teenager.

The real estate company that manages her apartment said she followed the protocol when the eviction was filed and that the employees were working with Ms. Wilson to waive the fees and help connect her to non-profit groups. If she has to move, she is afraid of ending up in a homeless shelter, where preliminary tests have shown high infection rates.

“There would be no distance of six feet – we would sleep on top of each other,” said Wilson, who is running to reimburse more than $ 2,000 in rent before the Georgia courts reopen next month.

The devastation made comparisons to the Great Recession, when millions of people lost their homes in a foreclosure crisis. But this time, tenants are likely to be on the front line.

“We sort of expect it to be more of a tenant crisis than a home ownership crisis,” said Elora Lee Raymond, assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who focuses on housing affordable and real estate.

Even before the current unemployment crisis, deportation was very common in American life. Researchers estimate that around 3.7 million evictions were filed in 2016, a year when the unemployment rate was 4.7%.

“We now have 14.7%,” said Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Princeton and author of the book “Expelled”, who is leading an effort at the university’s expulsion lab to track cases nationwide. Without intervention, he said, “I don’t see how we wouldn’t have a wave of evictions. “

Many low-wage workers make more money from unemployment than they did when they worked, said Ken Rosen, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley. “This is happening, not through the housing system, but through the unemployment benefit system,” he said.

But there is an impending question about what happens next. “People may pay their rent, but at what cost?” said Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, an advocacy group in Kansas City, Mo. “I know several people who take out title loans. They pay their rent on their credit card. “

Many landlords say they work with their tenants, waiving late fees and advocating that the government cover the missed rent. “We are in uncharted waters,” said Tom Bannon, executive director of the California Apartment Association, who added that most owners were unwilling to evict residents when there were few replacement warranty.

However, the owners also have bills to pay. When tenants cannot pay their rent, mortgage owners remain responsible to the banks, which respond to investors. “I call it the chain of responsibility,” said Bannon. “There is this link, and if there is a break in the link, the ripple effect is quite significant. “

Among the first to be expelled are those who were already struggling before the pandemic.

Stephen Jenkins, 64, was laid off from assembly work in January, making it difficult to pay his monthly rent of $ 900 in Springfield, Ohio. In March, he said, his savings were running out and he asked his landlord if he could pay late after paying his social security check.

Its owner, who declined to comment, applied for eviction.

In the weeks that followed, said Jenkins, his wife lost her job as a hostess at Bob Evans when the restaurants closed. They were unable to move because few real estate agents show houses because of the virus.

Stress causes him health problems, and he anxiously counts the days before his deportation hearing, which is now scheduled for Wednesday.

“I haven’t slept a night since March,” he said. “I wake up at three or four in the morning, worried about what will happen tomorrow. “



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