Elizabeth Anderson is the kind of person who goes out of her way to help those in need.
Old people trapped at home? She will clean their bathrooms and vacuum their carpets. Neighbors with hungry children? She will share what she left in her kitchen. A woman standing at a bus stop with two small children late at night? She will offer them accommodation.
But now the 57-year-old resident of Charleston, South Carolina needs help. When the spread of the coronavirus shut down her bed and breakfast cleaning business in March, she lost her income and could not afford to rent her house. This has brought Anderson among thousands of Americans to look at the abyss of homelessness as states begin to lift the moratoria on evictions that have been in place since the pandemic began three months ago.
So far, 24 states are processing evictions again, and that number is expected to reach at least 30 states by the end of June.
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However, not all tenants in these jurisdictions are vulnerable. Almost 30% continue to be protected by a federal moratorium under the CARES Act, which will remain in effect until July 25. The rest – like Anderson – live on properties that are not subsidized by the federal government or owned by owners with loans that are not guaranteed by the federal government.
For these unprotected tenants, the threat of eviction is very real – especially for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. With tens of millions of workers unemployed and the economy expected to remain fragile until there is a vaccine and consumers feel safe enough to travel, dine and go to theme parks again and movies – homelessness could happen at any time.
And like everything COVID-19 affects, it is communities of color who face disproportionate risk.
“Rent is coming to an end and tenants are no longer able to pay it now than they were at the start of the crisis,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition , who advocates for affordable housing. “We are very concerned about a wave of evictions and a spike in the homeless unless there is some kind of federal intervention.”
Yentel points to the HEROES law, which provides $ 100 billion in emergency rental assistance, as the best solution, stating that money is needed to keep people in their homes and prevent landlords from losing their investments. But the $ 3 trillion bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives last month, is not expected to be approved by the Republican Senate, and things could get worse when the federal moratorium on evictions expires in late July.
“Even before COVID, we were in the middle of a serious housing crisis,” said Yentel. “We had eight million of our lowest income tenant households who spent at least half of their income on rent. And when you have such a limited income to start with, you are always in one financial emergency of not being able to pay the rent.
“COVID is this emergency,” she said.
“I know he has a plan for me”
The coronavirus was certainly this emergency for Anderson.
“I have an app that does my planning and it’s gone crazy – cancel all of my assignments due to COVID on March 17,” said Anderson.
Still able to generate about $ 500 a week from her cleaning business, Anderson did more than enough before the crisis to cover $ 975 a month in rent for the three-bedroom ranch in which she lives with her son. 29 years old, his granddaughter, as well as his niece and his grand-niece, who had been evicted from their own house shortly before.
But after the crisis started, Anderson saved only $ 600. She said she had gone through it fairly quickly, adding that she did not expect any relief from her owner. From the start, he told her that he understood the pandemic but that he still wanted his money – that as soon as the moratorium was lifted, he was going to file an eviction notice.
True to his word, he applied for eviction on May 15.
Contacted by USA TODAY, Marvin Fuzz said that Anderson now owes him four months’ rent and that he cannot afford to let her live for free.
“I have a mortgage, home insurance and taxes,” he said. “If I don’t collect the money, the bank will own the house, and they won’t let her live there for free either. “
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In the meantime, Anderson said she was unable to collect unemployment insurance due to problems in the South Carolina system. Nor did she receive her stimulus check despite her request.
The only way his family was able to survive, says Anderson, is through the generosity of pantries and “by the grace of God.”
“I know he has a plan for me,” said Anderson. “I pray every morning, every day. I pray that God will take me out of this, to get us all out of it, because it’s not just for me. ”
Eviction every 7 minutes
Talk to rental property experts and they’ll tell you that the eviction crisis – or the affordable housing crisis – has been going on for more than three months.
In fact, it goes back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s, when the federal government cut funding for social housing, according to Yentel. What was once a small surplus of affordable housing has quickly turned into a deficit.
Then came the great recession of 2007-2009, when millions of homeowners defaulted on their home loans and began to rent. Add baby boomers to declining house sizes for apartments and millennials, too bothered by student loans to make a purchase, and soon there were too many tenants looking for too few. rental properties from coast to coast.
Since the 1960s, rental costs have climbed 61%, while tenant wages have stagnated – increasing only 5%, said Yentel. Tenants ended up paying a higher percentage of their income for housing, which put them in an increasingly precarious position. They just weren’t able to save for a rainy day.
“Before the pandemic, there was an eviction every 7 minutes – 300,000 every month,” said Alieza Durana, who studies evictions at the Princeton University deportation laboratory. “There were more evictions each year than seizures at the height of the Great Recession. “
Alieza Durana, narrative change liaison, with Princeton University Eviction Lab (Photo: GRAY GIRAFFE, LLC, Gray Giraffe)
The highest concentrations of evictions were recorded in the south and the rust belt, Durana said. Virginia and the Carolinas – where Anderson lives – are among the hot spots. With net migration increasing rapidly, they simply weren’t able to build apartment buildings fast enough. And of course, NIMBYism – the desire of communities to block the construction of housing for low-income neighbors in their backyards – was another factor that kept the stock of affordable housing from growing.
South Carolina has the highest eviction rate in the country, according to the Eviction Lab. The city of Charleston alone is evicting more people from their homes each month than some states.
“If you listen to the chamber of commerce, we have 55 people moving to the area every day,” said Otha Meadows, president and CEO of the Charleston Trident Urban League. “But those who go to work here every day – teachers, police, firefighters – cannot afford to live here because of the lack of affordable housing. “
Meadows said his organization was trying to save as many people as possible – including Anderson – from losing their homes.
“But there aren’t many options for people who can’t afford their rent,” said Meadows.
Dakota Ewing, who earned $ 18 an hour in a pain management business in Charleston – more than double the minimum wage in South Carolina – said her income was not enough to cover her expenses. So he took a job in January in a trucking company. Now he spends most of his time driving across the country transporting everything from bottled water to beef.
But the new job still didn’t stop him when the pandemic broke out.
Ewing’s employer had to close for a few weeks. He fell behind on his bills and his owner was quickly evicted in May. Ewing, 26, worked with a phone call. His real estate agent has set up a payment plan. The eviction was abandoned. Just like late fees.
“But it’s crazy that they didn’t even wait for the 30-day mark,” said Ewing. “It would be one thing if I was known for not paying on time, but I have never been late in my life. “
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The solution to the eviction crisis, said Ewing, is to raise the minimum wage in South Carolina. It could have been enough 15 years ago. But it’s not enough today.
And don’t be so quick to evict people from their homes, he said.
“People are going through a lot right now. We shouldn’t make it harder for them. “
The hardest hit by COVID-19
There is some disagreement among rental property experts on the number of people likely to be evicted as states begin to lift their moratoria and how many will have to live on the streets.
Andrew Rybczynski, management consultant at Costar Group, a commercial real estate research and analysis firm based in Washington, D.C., believes there will be a spike in evictions. But he says it may not be as important as some people think, as many tenants are in good shape thanks to generous government assistance during a pandemic – the extra $ 600 in unemployment benefits and the $ 1,200 stimulus.
A survey by the National Multifamily Housing Council, which advocates for the apartment industry, shows that 93% of tenants are currently making full or partial payments.
Rybczynski added that he does not expect a major increase in the number of homeless because – as in the Great Recession – people will start to double. They will move in together. They will return with their parents.
“That said, we expect American households to be under severe strain by the end of the year,” said Rybczynski.
One thing that rental property analysts agree on, however, is that people at the lower end of the economic spectrum – especially people of color – will suffer the most.
“The groups most at risk before COVID and those hardest hit by the crisis are the minority groups,” said Robert Pinnegar, president and chief executive officer of the National Apartment Association, which represents building owners across United States.
“From the perspective of economic recovery, many worked in hotels and restaurants that were closed and just starting to open, but they will not find full employment for a long time.”
Pinnegar says he particularly monitors Category C apartments that are rented to the most modest tenants.
“The next set of stimulus packages will be essential to maintaining their lifestyles and their ability to buy food,” said Pinnegar. It has a lot to do with the reason his organization is arguing for the $ 100 billion in rent assistance in Congress’s HEROES Act.
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Solomon Greene, a fellow at the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute, a Washington, DC think tank that studies cities and neighborhoods, also believes that the coming eviction crisis will have a greater impact on some minority groups.
Referring to a survey of 133,000 participants by the US Census Bureau, Greene said that blacks and Latinos were 11% more likely than whites to miss rent in May and twice as likely to feel nervous at the thought of making rent payments in June.
A recent Pew Research Center survey only reinforced these disparities, revealing that Hispanics and Blacks were more likely to have known or to have known someone who had lost their job because of a coronavirus than whites. And members of both groups were much more likely than whites to report not having enough emergency funds to cover three months of expenses.
Worse still, said Joel Roberts, chief executive officer of PATH, a Los Angeles organization that serves the state’s homeless population, minorities are much more likely to live on the streets. In California, for example, African Americans make up only 6.5% of the state’s population but 40% of the homeless.
Roberts said that homelessness in America had a slow downward trend before COVID-19. The total number of people living on the streets or in homeless shelters has increased from 650,000 to 500,000 since the Great Recession. But Roberts is confident that the ranks are now ready to swell.
“With an unemployment rate of around 15%, homelessness is expected to increase by 250,000,” said Roberts.
For many Americans, this result is unacceptable.
“Now is not the time to force people out of their homes,” said Gina Chiala, executive director of the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, an organization that advocates for low-wage workers in Kansas City, Missouri, “It will deepen their poverty. It will take them two years to find out where they were when they had a house. ”
It’s completely immoral, said Tara Rgahuveer, director of the housing campaign and founder of KCTenant, a tenant rights group based in Kansas City.
“If COVID has clarified anything, it is the complete immorality of homelessness,” she said. “There is simply no reason why it should continue in the United States – the richest country in history – during a pandemic, when a house is also what we need most to stay in healthy”
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