Rent is Due – by Diane Yentel, NLIHC President and CEO

Rent is due today, and millions of people in America can’t afford to pay. Without a significant federal intervention, a wave of evictions and a spike in homelessness will devastate individuals, communities, and our economy. The House has passed legislation to prevent this unnecessary and costly outcome; the Senate now must act.

Even before COVID-19, the country was in the grip of a pervasive affordable housing crisis. More than half a million people experienced homelessness in the U.S. each night. A national shortage of 7 million affordable apartments left fewer than four affordable homes available for every 10 extremely low-income renters. Eight million of the lowest-income renters paid at least half of their limited incomes on rent, leaving them one financial emergency away from eviction and, in worst cases, homelessness.

For many of these renters, the coronavirus is the financial emergency. More than half of low-income households report a recent and sudden job loss or decline in income due to the pandemic. In the first week of May, only 74% of renters in older, lower-cost apartments were able to pay rent. Many low-income renters who paid rent in May did so with one-time stimulus checks or credit cards.

The housing emergency most harms people of color. Structural racism leaves people of color disproportionately low-income, rent-burdened, or homeless, even before COVID-19. Now, Black and Native Americans bear the brunt of COVID-19 infections and fatalities, and Latinos bear the brunt of historic job losses. Without focused action, the pending tsunami of evictions and homelessness will disproportionately affect Black and brown people.

A patchwork of federal, state, and local eviction moratoriums has given short-term relief to some renters but leave many unprotected and create a financial cliff when moratoriums expire and back rent is due. State and local eviction moratoriums are expiring rapidly, and courts are beginning to process a backlog of evictions: twelve states ended eviction moratoriums in May, and another six are set to allow evictions to move forward over the next two weeks.

In the short term, increased evictions and homelessness have enormous individual and public health consequences. In the long-term, evictions create a spiraling into poverty that is difficult to reverse, with myriad costs to families, communities, and the country. Congress must immediately implement a uniform, national moratorium on evictions for the duration of the public health emergency.

But eviction moratoriums alone are not enough. Without further action, this crisis will result in a depleted national housing stock and low-income renters burdened with more debt. Some states and localities have cobbled together resources to provide rental assistance and prevent evictions, but these programs are shutting down within hours or days after funds are depleted. Throughout the country, demand for rental assistance and eviction prevention far outstrips resources.

Across the country and across party lines, Americans overwhelmingly want Congress to act immediately to keep people stably housed during and after the pandemic. According to a recent public opinion poll, 89% of people in America favor enacting a uniform, nationwide policy that stops all evictions during the coronavirus outbreak. Fully nine out of ten people in America support providing emergency rental assistance for people who are struggling to afford the rent and are at serious risk of eviction as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Ninety percent of all people favor expanding funding for homeless assistance programs.

This bill includes essential components to ensure housing stability: a broad eviction moratorium for all renters, $11.5 billion for homeless shelter and service providers, and the “Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act” to provide $100 billion in flexible funds for emergency rental assistance.    

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he “does not feel the urgency of acting immediately.” Let’s be clear: every day of inaction puts more low-income renters – seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, veterans – at immediate risk of losing their homes. Now more than ever, housing is healthcare. We need rent relief now.