Millions of workers will lose CARES Act unemployment benefits on December 26, unless Congress passes another pandemic stimulus package. Without help, these workers risk joining the millions of low-income renters who have have built up months worth of back rent. As the national eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of the year, the nation could face an eviction crisis without federal action.
According to a report from The Century Foundation, 12 million workers will lose their unemployment assistance when CARES Act extensions expire on December 26. In addition, 4.4 million workers will have already exhausted their unemployment benefits before that deadline.
When Congress passed the CARES Act last March, it included a number of things to help workers who lost jobs or income because of the pandemic. The CARES Act provided a $600 boost to weekly unemployment checks, which stopped at the end of July; but the CARES Act also extended eligibility periods for existing unemployment programs. This has helped millions of low-income renters get by as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
The Century Foundation points out that the CARES Act unemployment extension was much shorter than Congress set for past economic crises. For example, the time limits Congress set for extended unemployment during the Great Recession recognized that it takes time to restart businesses and create jobs. Workers could get unemployment assistance for many more weeks than the CARES Act has authorized.
And unlike during the Great Recession, the CARES Act benefits get cut off abruptly. During the Great recession, extended unemployment benefits were gradually phased. This helped workers get back on their feet before losing benefits completely.
Low-income renters have been protected by the national eviction moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But under the CDC order, tenants are still liable for rent, late fees and other charges. Tenants will be on the hook for all of this back rent in January. Even when landlords agree to repayment plans, it will be hard for low-income renters to make the extra payments when they struggle in the best of times.
Landlords around the country filed several lawsuits against the order. In response, the CDC put out guidance that favors landlord over tenant interests. The original order says that no actions leading to eviction can be taken by landlords against tenants. CDC’s guidance allows landlords to take any steps in the eviction process as long as renters remain in their homes through the end of December.
With millions of low-income renters exhausting their unemployment benefits, they face mounting obligations to landlords for back rent, fees and charges. The CDC’s guidance means that landlords can still file for eviction, serve notice to tenants, and take other steps to move the eviction process along. This means that a large wave of renters will be pretty far along in the eviction process by January if they cannot pay their back rent they will lose their homes right after the holidays.
Nationally, renters will owe $30-$70 billion in back rent and fees by January. A study conducted for the National Council of State Housing Agencies estimated that renters will owe up to $34 billion in back rent. The report also estimated that 8 million households containing 20 million renters could experience an eviction filing in January if the CDC moratorium is not extended.
More recently, Moody’s Analytics estimated that 12 million renters will face eviction in January without federal action. These renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities. Moody’s Chief Economist Mark Zandi previously estimated that renters would owe up to $70 billion in back rent and missed utility payments.
Low-income renters are harmed when landlords file for eviction, even if the CDC order means that they can stay in their homes until the end of the year. A study by Community Legal Services of Philadelphia found that eviction records are easily accessible in that city, and this is likely true in many other jurisdictions. Rasheedah Phillips of Community Legal Services told a December 7 National Low-Income Housing Coalition webinar that landlords commonly use tenant screening services to fill vacancies. They will deny applicants if they see an eviction record, even for a case the tenant won or where the landlord withdrew.
Phillips also said that evictions hit minority communities especially hard. During the pandemic, 49% of eviction filings were for properties in majority-Black neighborhoods. Eviction filings in neighborhoods of color made up 78% of the filings. Minority and women-headed households will feel the worst of the eviction crisis looming in the new year.
So far, Congress has not taken action to extend the CDC eviction moratorium or provide emergency rental assistance to help low-income renters. Affordable housing advocates have been pushing the Biden transition team to make keeping people safe in their homes a priority. Advocates have pushed for President-elect Biden to extend and expand the CDC eviction moratorium on his first day in office, although the Biden transition team has not made any announcements as yet.
COVID relief needed more than ever. Both low-income renters in danger of eviction, and small landlords in danger of losing their properties need Congressional action and federal assistance right away. National eviction moratorium that does not put the burden on vulnerable renters and emergency rental assistance so that tenants can catch up on rent and landlords can pay their bills.
Congress must pass a new stimulus package that extends and expands the CDC eviction moratorium. The package must also include emergency rental assistance funds so that low-income tenants can get current on their rent. If federal action does not happen soon, millions of low-income renters will have exhausted their unemployment benefits. Millions will have built up months of unpaid rent. And millions could find themselves homeless in the middle of winter while a pandemic rages on.