Vice President for Housing Policy
President Trump’s expected executive order to extend, if not expand, the CARES Act’s federal ban on evictions, which recently expired, very likely will prove woefully inadequate to help people experiencing homelessness or the millions of renters struggling to pay rent.
The CARES Act’s eviction moratorium only covered renters who participate in federal housing assistance programs or live in a property with a federally backed mortgage. That leaves at least half of renters with no federal protection against eviction. While some were covered by state or local moratoriums, many of those are expiring.
Eviction moratoriums alone do not help renters pay the bills. Renters continue to accumulate rent debt and struggle to pay for utilities, food, and other necessities. And many will face eviction soon after moratoriums expire because of large past due rent bills.
Eviction moratoriums also don’t help landlords, who also have bills to pay and are experiencing sharp drops in revenue. Landlords rely on rental income to cover maintenance and other property-related expenses, including property taxes. Smaller landlords — some of whom may also have lost their jobs — could be disproportionately harmed because they spend at least half of their rental income on mortgage payments, property taxes, and insurance for their properties. If landlords experience significant decreases in rental income, they could put off property upkeep and they might face foreclosures, which in turn can lead to more evictions and the loss of affordable rental housing.
For renters, hardship was widespread even before the enhanced jobless benefits that policymakers enacted earlier this year ended, Census data show. Nearly 15 million adults (or 1 in 5 adult renters) reported that they were behind on rent payments in July; for Black and Latino people, the shares were even higher. These renter households include 7 million children, or 30 percent of all children in renter households. Many renter households are also struggling to afford food, with about 9 million children — or four in 10 children of renters — living in a household that didn’t get enough to eat, was behind on rent, or both, in July.
Enhanced jobless benefits alone won’t stave off a sharp rise in evictions. While the expired $600 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit helped many pay their bills, some jobless workers aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits and also can’t find a job at this time of high unemployment. They include some workers who were out of work before the crisis and some who lost their jobs for reasons that don’t qualify them for benefits, such as those who left jobs because they were ill or caring for a family member (for a reason unrelated to COVID-19).
The nation is facing serious rental housing problems that an executive order won’t solve. Instead, policy makers should take a comprehensive approach to address them adequately. Such an approach would include:
Housing vouchers to provide long-term housing stability. State and local housing agencies are well positioned to identify individuals and families facing the greatest risks of eviction or homelessness and to provide them with rental vouchers that will help them to remain stably housed for the long term. These agencies are equipped to provide emergency housing vouchers to 500,000 at-risk households over the next year, at a five-year cost of about $26 billion. (The Heroes Act includes $1 billion for this purpose, and both House and Senate legislation, H.R. 7084 and S. 4164, would provide $10 billion.)
Homelessness assistance. State and local agencies need more funds to expand safe, non-congregate shelter options for people experiencing homelessness, revamp their facilities to prevent the spread of the virus, and provide services to help people remain housed and avoid homelessness. The CARES Act provides $4 billion for these purposes, but analysts have concluded that an additional $11.5 billion will be needed to continue and expand these efforts during the pandemic.
Eviction prevention. Policymakers should couple an extension of the federal eviction moratorium with help paying past, current, and future rent. They should provide significant funding through the Emergency Solutions Grant program for short- and medium-term rental assistance to help people stay in their homes, avoid accumulating housing-related debt (without leaving landlords responsible for unpaid rent), and avoid eviction when federal, state, and local moratoriums expire.
Supplemental funding for rental assistance programs to cover increased subsidy costs that tenant income losses create. Income losses among currently assisted households are raising subsidy costs, and many agencies will have to cut the number of households they assist if they don’t receive additional funding to cover these costs. We estimate the need for at least $1 billion to address shortfalls in the Housing Choice Voucher program, along with additional funds for public housing and other programs.