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A recent survey shows that evictions by federal Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) are on the rise. In many cases, evictions from Public Housing and by landlords who accept rental assistance vouchers are reaching pre-pandemic levels.
According to the spring National Housing Law Project (NHLP) survey — Rising Evictions in HUD-Assisted Housing — many PHAs did not follow HUD guidance that would make it easier for residents to stay in their homes. Many also filed for eviction without giving the required notice to residents.
Evictions on the rise for HUD households
Public Housing and voucher households continue to be evicted, despite $46 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) approved by Congress during the pandemic.
NHLP surveyed 148 legal services attorneys and housing rights advocates from 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
Among the attorneys surveyed, 47% report rising eviction cases for nonpayment of rent in HUD housing programs overall. In addition, 44% report an increase in public housing eviction cases and 53% saw an increase in voucher household eviction cases.
On top of rising cases, only 3% of renters have legal representation in eviction court, compared with 81% of landlords.
Courts have not enforced 30-day notice requirements
Under the CARES Act, residents of federally assisted housing must be given 30-days notice before a PHA or landlord files for eviction. This gives tenants extra time to catch up on the back rent or find another place to live. In either case, tenants avoid homelessness and an eviction on their records.
NHLP’s survey found that many PHAs and voucher landlords continue to evict residents without the required notice. Enforcement by local courts around the country has been inconsistent.
Many PHAs ignore HUD guidance to help tenants
During the pandemic, HUD provided guidance that gave PHAs flexibility to help low-income renters stay in their homes. HUD encouraged its housing agencies to help tenants access pandemic ERA, and allowed them to adjust many program rules.
PHAs can adjust their policies for recertifying rent so that there is no gap in assistance when tenant incomes drop. PHAs can also drop their Public Housing minimum rent to $0. HUD encouraged PHAs to do this, so that tenants would not face homelessness during the pandemic.
But many PHAs did not adopt these helpful measures. Of the surveyed attorneys, 72% said that PHAs in their area did not recertify rent to reflect real-time changes in income. In addition, 81% reported that PHAs did not adopt a $0 minimum rent policy, even in documented cases of pandemic hardship.
Of the surveyed attorneys, 72% said that PHAs in their area did not recertify rent to reflect real-time changes in income.
Voucher household evictions on the rise
Voucher tenant evictions have either increased or returned to pre-pandemic levels, 92% of attorneys reported. Rising rents also led to evictions, as 66% reported increased evictions due to “unreasonable” rent increases.
Increased voucher household evictions for nonpayment of rent was reported by 60% of attorneys surveyed. This figure should be surprising to housing advocates, because voucher subsidies should increase when renter incomes drop.
Here are some common landlord practices reported by attorneys:
- Increasing rents without PHA approval
- Refusing to participate in ERA programs
- Evicting tenants for minor infractions or using false allegations to clear units and increase rents
- Claiming major remodels in order to relocate low-income tenants
What can be done to help HUD renters?
NHLP has several recommendations for HUD. These recommendations will help more Public Housing residents and voucher households stay safe in their homes, especially as the pandemic drags on.
According to NHLP, HUD should require its PHAs to:
- Apply for ERA on behalf of tenants behind on their rent.
- Adjust policies so that rent recertifications are more responsive to drops in income.
- Adopt a $0 minimum rent.
- Offer reasonable repayment plans for all Public Housing tenants facing eviction due to nonpayment of rent.
NHLP also said that HUD should reduce evictions of voucher households by:
- Requiring voucher landlords to work with tenants and ERA programs before filing for eviction.
- Revise rent policies so that subsidies adjust more quickly when income drops, ensuring tenants pay no more than 30% of their income for rent.
- Setting subsidy levels so that they are competitive in markets with rising rents, making it easier for low-income renters to find suitable apartments.
As of the publishing of this article, HUD has not publicly responded to NHLP’s recommendations.