Byrd, who lives in Pasadena, Texas, applied for unemployment benefits but had not yet received them when I spoke with her. Neither she nor her representatives at Lone Star Legal Aid knew the reason for the delay. Byrd used her federal stimulus check to pay rent in April and May but couldn’t make her payments in June or July. A judge on Wednesday ordered her and her children, ages 5 and 12, out of their home. She had hoped the court would empathize with her because the pandemic exacerbated her problems. She finally got another job that starts this week and said she would try to mitigate the landlord’s losses. “I’m doing the best I could,” she said. “I’ve been praying and praying.”
Over the past few years, the rising cost of renting has made many U.S. cities unaffordable for low- and middle-income families. But moving away from cities can mean leaving jobs, public transportation, and support from friends and family. As COVID-19 shutdowns left low-income workers jobless, economists began forecasting mass evictions later this year.
In March, Congress provided some relief with its coronavirus rescue package, including a moratorium on certain evictions that expired on Saturday. It prevented landlords of government-owned properties from evicting tenants who could not pay. It also applied to properties with mortgages backed by the federal government. Now that the moratorium has expired, those landlords must give 30 days’ notice to tenants they wish to evict. Many states passed their own moratoriums to cover all nonpayment evictions.
The moratoriums were multipurpose, allowing people to shelter in place while giving renters time to negotiate with landlords and secure employment. Nationwide, 24.7 million adults reported late or deferred housing payments in May, a Census Bureau survey showed. An analysis by the consulting firm Stout estimated landlords will file nearly 11.9 million eviction notices over the next four months. A filing doesn’t mean automatic eviction, but it does go on the tenant’s credit report regardless of its outcome.
Shamus Roller, executive director of the National Housing Law Project, said evicted renters usually end up in worse housing that is often overcrowded or unsafe. A small percentage of evictees become homeless with limited housing options. Roller said the evictions will hit some harder than others: “Nationally, blacks are about twice as likely to face eviction, even when you control for their education levels. Forty-five percent of Latinos don’t know how they’re going to pay the rent next month, nationally.”
Congress will begin debating a new stimulus bill that should extend the eviction moratorium. Some states plan to use funds from the federal relief package to assist renters. But in Tallahassee, Fla., “that system will probably not be up and running until the middle of August,” said Stephanie Johnson, an attorney with Legal Services of North Florida, a nonprofit organization that provides legal help to the poor. “There’s money out there,” she said. “It just hasn’t been accessible to tenants yet.” In the meantime, she recommends renters negotiate with their landlords.
The eviction moratoriums would not have helped Sherne Byrd because she did not live in government housing. She said she could ask her family in Louisiana for a place to stay, though her mother has cancer and might be unable to help. Byrd hopes to stay in Houston and keep her kids in their school. “I’ve been calling shelters,” she said. “I’m scared to take my babies in a shelter, and I’m scared to go in one. But I’ve got to do something because … I don’t know how it’s going to go.”
Editor’s note: WORLD has updated this report since its initial posting.