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Extending Eviction Moratorium Helpful Now, But Long-Term Housing Crisis Requires Voucher Expansion

The Biden Administration will reportedly extend its evictions moratorium one month past its scheduled expiration June 30. For now, this will protect the 10 million-plus adult renters who live in a household not caught up on rent while giving states additional time to implement emergency rental assistance they’ve been given. But with evictions and other housing instability looming well past July for millions of families, and people of color disproportionately, policymakers must enact a more enduring solution to the nation’s long-term housing crisis — with a sharp expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher program.

The number of adults reporting to the Census Bureau that their household was not caught up on rent has fallen from a peak of 15 million people in late January but has yet to dip below 10 million people since the end of March. People of color, particularly families with children, have consistently been more likely to report difficulty making rent during the pandemic. Our nation’s long history of racism and discrimination has created unequal education, employment, and housing opportunities for people of color, putting them at greater risk of high rental cost burdens, overcrowding, evictions, and homelessness.

Here are some key findings from recent Census survey data, showing that the current housing crisis is affecting a broad swath of renter households, including people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, and people with less education:

  • 1 in 5 families with children reported their household was behind on rent, twice the rate of households without children, according to data collected April 14 – May 24.
  • 28 percent of Black renters living with children, 25 percent of Asian renters living with children, and 21 percent of Latino renters living with children said they were not caught up on rent, compared to 13 percent of white renters living with children (see chart), according to data collected April 14 – May 24. The rate was 23 percent for American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial adults living with children, whom Census reports on together due to data limitations.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 renters who have “a lot of difficulty” or “cannot” see, hear, or walk or climb stairs reported that their household was behind on rent, according to data collected April 14 – May 24.
  • 1 in 4 renters who are out of work reported that their household was behind on rent, according to data collected May 26 – June 7. Job losses have been heavily concentrated in low-wage industries and among workers of color, immigrants, and people with less education.
  • Among renters in a household behind on rent, 46 percent reported that it was somewhat or very likely that they would be facing eviction in the next two months, according to data collected May 26 – June 7.

The forced moves that result from evictions are particularly harmful for children and can disrupt their social, physical, and academic development. Evictions often lead to children changing schools, and disruptions like these are associated with students falling behind by half a year of school or more. A broad body of research also links homelessness, housing instability, overcrowding, and poverty to cognitive and mental health issues for children and difficulties in school.

Evictions may also force families into more crowded housing conditions, like being doubled up with other families or at a homeless shelter. Spikes in evictions are associated with increased COVID-19 transmission, infection, and death. Emerging research suggests that eviction filings also tend to be higher in communities with lower vaccination rates, raising concerns that evictions could lead to increased spread of COVID-19. These are often predominantly Black or Latino communities whose members often face greater barriers to vaccine access, such as inflexible work schedules, difficulty getting to a vaccination site, or fear of being asked to provide government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, in order to receive a vaccine.

The December relief package and the American Rescue Plan included over $46 billion in emergency rental assistance, designed to help people who are struggling to pay their rent and avoid eviction. States and localities are working to get these funds to renters in need, but many communities did not have adequate systems in place to distribute emergency rental assistance funds quickly. As a result, some states and localities are building the infrastructure for people to apply for and receive emergency assistance in real time even as the scheduled end of the eviction crisis gets closer. Extending the eviction moratorium will give them time to distribute much-needed aid before people lose their homes.

While the substantial emergency rental assistance can help avert an immediate spike in evictions, these funds can’t address long-term housing affordability problems, which began long before the pandemic. The origins of the looming eviction crisis are rooted in our nation’s underfunded rental assistance programs, which have long failed to meet the need for affordable housing. Housing vouchers, which help low-income households afford decent, stable housing, are available to just 1 in 4 eligible families due to funding limitations, and waiting lists often stretched for years long before the pandemic and associated rise in need. Insufficient funding means that, prior to the current crisis, some 24 million people in low-income renter households paid more than half of their income for rent and utilities. Most of those paying more than half of their income in rent (62 percent) are people of color. They include low-paid workers with children, as well as many seniors, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people, who are more likely to face housing instability and homelessness.

The Administration’s moratorium extension will give states and localities time to distribute emergency rental assistance funds to renters at risk of eviction and increase vaccination access in areas most likely to face high eviction filings. And it will prevent a widespread spike in evictions and homelessness in July. But many of these renters faced a similar deadline only months ago and need a long-term solution, not another band-aid.

The single most important step policymakers can take to stabilize families and reduce eviction, overcrowding, and homelessness is to fund more Housing Choice Vouchers, which rigorous research has shown to be highly effective at addressing these problems and improving other outcomes for families and children.