Denise Forcer would become stressed just by opening her closet door for months. The suffocation of her belongings reminded her that she didn’t know where she would go or what she would do if her landlord followed through on the eviction notices they kept posting on the door of her south Florida apartment.
Forcer, like millions of other Americans, has been shielded from eviction by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) moratorium, which expires at the end of this week. Unlike the majority of these renters, Forcer was able to pay off roughly three months of owed rent thanks to the government’s $47 billion in rental assistance. However, only 6.5 percent of that money has been distributed, and advocates are concerned that evictions will increase next week as renters are suddenly liable for months, if not a year, of unpaid rent.
In late June and early July, approximately 12.7 million renters reported to the census that they had no or limited confidence in their ability to make next month’s rent payment.
This pain will not be felt equally across the United States. States with lax renter protections, such as Florida, are bracing for a “avalanche” of evictions, while the expiration of the federal moratorium will go unnoticed in states with stronger protections, such as Washington.
Eviction cases in Florida move quickly, and fighting them is difficult. Tenants must pay the full back rent owed within five days of the eviction filing just to get a court hearing. People will only have a few days to find months of unpaid rent if the eviction moratorium is not used as a defense.
The eviction moratorium was set to expire at the end of June, but the White House extended it for “one final month” through July 31 amid reports of even slower rental assistance disbursement earlier this summer. When it comes to an end, it will have removed one of the last remaining impediments to the country’s systemic mismatch between housing costs and the money people actually have.
This month, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released a report revealing that a full-time minimum-wage worker cannot afford a modest two-bedroom rental home anywhere in the United States. According to the report, these workers cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment in 93 percent of US counties.
This larger issue, which will last beyond the pandemic, has pushed the housing movement to demand permanent change and improve renter protections in some states.
This movement has ensured that the end of the federal moratorium will not cause even a minor tremor among Washington renters. During the pandemic, the state provided some of the strongest protections for renters, and while some rules, such as a rent increase freeze, have been phased out, many protections, or a version of those protections, will remain in place through September.
Until October 1st, landlords in Washington can only evict tenants for unpaid rent if their county has active rental assistance and mediation programs. To begin the eviction process, they must first inform the tenant about these programs and provide a reasonable repayment plan. A ban on late fees is also still in place.
Washington became the first state to guarantee legal representation to low-income residents facing eviction in April. At the time, only 8% of people facing eviction in Washington had access to legal counsel. It is expected that it will take months to hire enough lawyers to meet the expected demand.
A rent increase freeze, which Thomas said was extremely helpful in keeping people at home, is one protection that is no longer in place. She is concerned about how people will stay current on rent if they have been relying on family, friends, loans, or depleting their savings in the absence of it. According to the Census, 319,816 people in Washington had no or little confidence that they would be able to make next month’s rent payment in late June and early July. In addition, 1.4 million people reported having difficulty paying for their usual household expenses in the previous seven days.
Despite the fact that Washington renters are better protected than most, the state is having the same problems as the rest of the country in distributing $1 billion in rental assistance. “Because we’ve never spent this much money on homelessness prevention before, our provider system is working really hard, but it takes time to process the applications,” Thomas explained.