The coronavirus pandemic has made the U.S. economy spiral out of control, now, the potential eviction of 30 million Americans may put the country into another pandemic.
Last weekend, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that required administration officials to “take all lawful measures to prevent residential evictions and foreclosures resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19.”
Trump also required cabinet officials to identify funds that could be used to aid distressed renters. According to NPR, none of Trump’s orders neither bans evictions outright nor provides rental assistance because both actions must be approved by Congress. Additionally, housing activists say it will do little to avoid the situation.
When the coronavirus pandemic began in March, many states paused evictions in order to protect the millions of suddenly unemployed workers from losing their homes. Those eviction bans are expiring at the same time the $600 federal unemployment benefit has expired. The benefit allowed many Americans without a job to put food on the table while paying bills, including rent.
“Now you’re in a moment where you still haven’t gone back to work, most government benefits have stopped, and the rent is still due,” says the Aspen Institute’s Zach Neumann, who founded the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
Neumann estimates of the 110 million Americans who live in rental housing, at least 30 million are at risk of eviction by the end of September.
“There’s tremendous urgency,” adds Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “There are millions of renters who can’t sleep at night because they don’t know what they’re going to do if they become homeless.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Wednesday to extend the state’s protections for tenants who have faced financial hardships related to COVID-19 until Sept. 4. The state’s new Tenant Safe Harbor Act also prevents a court from issuing an eviction warrant against those tenants.
However, even when bans are in place, tenants can have trouble understanding whether they’re protected or not. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis extended an eviction ban for another month but the extension only allows renters who can prove they’ve been hurt by COVID-19 to appeal for more time to pay what they owe. The ban technically doesn’t stop evictions according to Jamos Mobley, an attorney in Orlando.
“A lot of folks hear that we’ve had an extension, and they’re going to assume they’re protected. And that’s just not the case. Evictions are moving forward. They’re being filed. They’re being served,” says Mobley, who also works for the Legal Aid Society in Central Florida. “I think our next pandemic, if nothing is done, is going to be a homeless pandemic,” he says.