43 million Americans at risk of eviction as relief programs and moratorium expire: “It’s a nightmare”

With Congress deadlocked on a new coronavirus relief package, a moratorium on evictions in federally backed housing expired last week. The moratorium covered more than 12 million households, or about 30% of all renters, but the total number of Americans possibly facing eviction is much higher.

All renters are now subject to state laws, and there’s a patchwork of eviction policies that vary by state.

Shamika Rollins’ eight children share two bedrooms in Richmond, Virginia. But she’s worried about losing their home after she says she received an eviction notice in June.

“First thing, I panic, and then next thing, I look, and I’m like, I got my kids. And it’s like, okay, now you gotta figure this out,” she told CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz.

She was behind on rent before the pandemic. Then, as COVID-19 appeared, half her income disappeared when her hours as a home health aid were cut.

Her family helped her pay roughly $8,000 in owed rent but she’s still behind.

“I have a lot of sleepless nights,” Rollins said. “My mind is constantly racing, you know, what’s your next move?”

Catherine Azar in Colorado works with show horses but has been out of work and unable to pay rent since March. She said she hasn’t seen a dollar of unemployment money.

“It’s a nightmare,” Azar said. “I don’t think anybody should have to go through this.”

If she can’t get the money together or work out a deal by Friday, she’ll head to eviction court.

“It’s hard for me to conceive of someone being willing to put another person out in the street in the middle of a deadly pandemic, and I’m high risk. I’m 70. I have heart issues and I’m diabetic,” Azar said.

Rollins and Azar are just two of the 43 million Americans at risk of eviction in the coming months. For context, about 1 million Americans were evicted in 2010, the year after the Great Recession. 

Thirty states currently allow evictions to continue during the pandemic.

Asked if there could be a tsunami of evictions as eviction bans start to phase out across the country, housing lawyer Dennericka Brooks said, “I don’t think that tsunami can adequately capture the number of cases that we anticipate seeing.”

Brooks, who is the director of housing at Legal Aid Chicago, thinks it will be worse.

“The courts are going to be flooded unless landlords make a good faith effort to try to be patient, and also to try to resolve rent dispute issues in a way that does not involve the court system,” she said.

“Your method to enforce your lease is by using the courts and filing an eviction action,” landlord Paul Arena said. 

Arena, the director of legislative affairs at the Illinois Rental Property Owners Association, argues the pandemic has actually had a minimal effect on rent payments so far.

Members of his organization have sued Illinois’ governor over the state’s eviction ban, arguing landlords are unfairly bearing the burden.

“It’s always a miserable experience to evict people,” Arena said. “Somebody who’s experiencing and can show that they have a legitimate hardship, you know, we’re willing to work with them. … But to deny us access to the courts where you can sort everything out, that’s a problem.”

Studies show women of color are at higher risk for eviction. According to the ACLU, in 17 states, Black women renters are twice as likely as White renters to be evicted.

One Florida mother lost her waitressing job and her home during the pandemic. She’s been living in a motel. Her kids are staying with her mother.

“At night it really hits me, like when I can’t even tuck my kids into bed,” she said. “It gets very emotional”

She spoke with CBS News days after she tested positive for COVID-19.

“I feel like I’m getting hit from left to right. With everything going on with my situation is like, what’s next?”

Two days later she was hospitalized with symptoms. She’s now out of the hospital and doing much better.

Rollins’ landlord said they have a rent relief program and encouraged tenants to get help through state programs.

Azar’s landlord said she’s tried to work with Azar but they haven’t reached an agreement.

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