With eviction moratorium set to end, millions of people are still behind on rent

With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s  eviction moratorium set to expire in days, millions of households are still behind on rent.

As of the first week of July, about 1.4 million people out of 7 million surveyed said it was very likely that they would face eviction in the next two months, according to the CDC’s latest Household Pulse survey. Another 7.4 million people of 51 million said they were currently behind on rent.

“In the coming days and weeks, it’s a little hard to know exactly what to expect. There’s been lots of language at times about an eviction wave or bubble or cliff, and I’m not exactly sure what we’ll see,” said Dan Threet, a research analyst with the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), in a phone interview. “Even when low income renters are hard pressed by income loss, they’ve made lots of sacrifices to stay housed. Whether immediate or protracted, there’s cause for great concern for low-income renters.”

While emergency federal relief funding has been allocated to support people who are behind on rent and utilities, getting it into people’s hands has been a slow process. Of the $46 billion Congress appropriated for emergency rental aid, only about $3 billion has actually been doled out by states, according to the Washington Post. 

Several states were ill equipped to process rental assistance so quickly. Another compounding factor: Many people didn’t even realize they were eligible for assistance in the first place.

Housing affordability remains a problem
Insurers and other healthcare organizations are also seeing the domino effect of housing insecurity on people’s health. Before the pandemic, many people were already struggling to secure housing, or had significant utility debt, said Amy Riegel, director of housing for CareSource, an Ohio-based insurer that operates large Medicaid managed care plans.

The problem isn’t limited to high-priced cities. A recent report by NLIHC found that the minimum wage isn’t enough to rent a two-bedroom apartment in all but two U.S. states.

“The moratorium was helpful in that it prevented what I can imagine would have been a tsunami, a huge impact of homelessness and eviction,” Riegel said in a phone interview.

But it still doesn’t erase people’s rental debt, utility debt, or previous evictions from their record. Sometimes, emergency rental assistance goes to paying down utility debt, which lets people turn the lights back on, but still doesn’t solve the problem that the cost of housing outpaces most minimum wage workers’ income.

“It helped to stop the impact of what could have happened, but it didn’t solve the problem,” she said. “We have to really come to terms with the housing instability that exists in our country.”

Even as many businesses reopen, not everyone is able to go back to work yet, Rieger said. Childcare is still difficult to find, as centers either haven’t reopened or have a limited number of seats, while kids are out of school for the summer. On top of that, some people who had Covid-19 are still struggling with complications related to the illness.

“There’s a desire to reenter the workforce,” she said. “They would love to have employment opportunities again but the supports just aren’t there for them to do that.”

Taylor Justice, co-founder and president of healthcare technology company Unite Us, said that these different factors — employment, childcare, housing and transportation — are all linked. The company makes software to coordinate social service providers with a person’s healthcare, to make it easier to intervene when they need support.

“Giving them a list and sending them on their way isn’t good enough,” he said in a Zoom interview.

Out of the 42 states where Unite Us operates, housing has always been a “top 2” need, Justice added.

“Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “(Housing insecurity) affects more people than you think.”

To address both housing and other wraparound costs, Unite Us worked with United Way in Kentucky to provide rental and mortgage assistance, coupled with flexible cash assistance to help pay for transportation services, diapers, childcare and other critical needs.

Going into the next month, it’s difficult to know what will happen. There’s still a concern that people scraping by to make rent might be making other sacrifices to keep their homes.

“Many renters who we know have lost wages are making sacrifices of other basic needs to remain current,” NLIHC’s Threet said. “If done by unsustainable means, it could be a problem in the future.”