One in five U.S. households who rent their homes could face eviction by October as enhanced federal unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums come to an end this summer, an analysis shows. Already, thousands of eviction cases are pending in a number of states.
Between 19 million and 23 million families that rent across the country are at risk of losing their homes by September 30, estimates the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, an advocacy group focused on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on housing.
A spike in evictions could add to the nation's problems as it battles the widening COVID-19 outbreak and the accompanying economic recession. A surge in homelessness also could raise the risk of infection because evicted families often double up with relatives and friends, stay in shelters or end up on the street.
Among those fearing eviction is 18-year-old Chris Hammond, who lives in an apartment with his mother in Hampshire, Illinois. Hammond recently started a GoFundMe to raise $3,500 to cover three months of back rent and their next month's rent.
"I lost my job around the beginning of the pandemic and my mom works a minimum wage job, and most of our money goes for bills," Hammond told CBS MoneyWatch. "As states are beginning to resume business as normal, it worries me because I think landlords will be less forgiving about late rent payments."
Roughly 20% of renters — about 13 million people — told a Census Bureau survey last month they had missed their May rent payment.
Hammond said he and his mother could possibly move in with an aunt if they lost their home, but he expressed concern they might need to move into a shelter. He also worries it would increase his and his mom's risks of exposure to COVID-19 if they aren't in stable housing. Eviction "would be devastating to us," Hammond said.
Such concerns are borne out by research on the impact of evictions, with the Aspen Institute noting that it can lead to disastrous outcomes for families. It can be traumatizing to children, who often end up missing school as a result of the upheaval, leading to behavioral and learning gaps with their peers. Many landlords are also reluctant to rent to people with a history of eviction, creating a cycle of unstable housing for families.
Evicted families often "double up" with other family members or friends, but that carries another risk during the coronavirus pandemic when people are supposed to be socially distanced, said Katherine Lucas McKay, senior program manager at the Aspen Institute's Financial Security Program.
"You are asking people to choose between a roof over your head and putting your friends and family at risk," she said.
Cities and states where eviction moratoriums have ended have seen a jump in legal proceedings to eject people from their homes. In Milwaukee, where Wisconsin's moratorium ended on May 26, cases rose 15% in the last month, according to the Eviction Lab.
"The eagerness to reopen eviction courts goes along with the eagerness to evict people," McKay said. "Virginia and North Carolina have reopened eviction courts and have thousands of cases filed in the last few weeks."
About 12,000 eviction cases are pending in Virginia courts, according to the Virginian-Pilot. In North Carolina, about 10,000 eviction cases are in the works, the News & Observer noted. Moratoriums in both those states ended last month.
To be sure, landlords need to receive income from rent to cover their own expenses, such as the cost of mortgages, building maintenance and property taxes. That's why advocates are arguing for federal assistance to help renters afford their bills, such as continuing the $600 in weekly unemployment benefits that have been added on to varying state unemployment payouts.
"There is a really simple solution: The federal government should be paying people's rents," which could be done through expanded unemployment benefits or direct federal aid to states, McKay said, adding that she expects evictions to spike in August.