Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of businesses have permanently closed, and hundreds of thousands of employees are out of work. Even those who’ve managed to maintain employment face massive uncertainty and reduced hours, forcing some people to choose between paying rent and purchasing food and other necessities. The CDC announced in early September a suspension on evictions that will last through the end of 2020, but the start of 2021 could lead to evictions increasing exponentially.
Local, state, and federal eviction bans have mostly protected renters thus far in the pandemic. But once those protections run out, many renters will find themselves facing thousands of dollars in back rent, along with potential evictions and no avenue out. When January rolls around, an estimated $32 billion in back rent will become due nationwide. If renters—many of whom have been unable to find employment due to citywide shutdowns, business closures, and the ever-prevalent pandemic—cannot produce the necessary money, they will be ejected from their homes.
Up to 8 million tenants face eviction, according to global advisory firm Stout Risius and Ross. The firm works alongside the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, a nonprofit that advocates for tenants in eviction court. This is a sharp increase in evictions from a typical year, which would see an average of 3.6 million people facing the prospect of becoming homeless.
The September rent suspension also fails to protect renters in the long term. It doesn’t cancel rent, which means that many tenants will owe thousands in back rent in January. A rent supplement could help in this but will likely fall far short of what many renters need.
Princeton University Eviction Lab, a national housing research center, examined housing issues and homelessness in 17 hard-hit cities. The resulting data found that, since the start of the pandemic, more than 60,000 eviction notices have been filed. More often than not, those facing eviction or homelessness in January are families, rather than individuals.
Without action from elected officials, thousands of people could face eviction in about a month. Many have no idea how they will pay back rent, let alone move forward with typical rent payments. The Trump administration is allowing evictions despite the September CDC order, but some congressional leaders are calling for rent to be canceled. On Nov. 19, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) called for rent and mortgage payments to be canceled, calling the idea of evicting people in the midst of a pandemic a “moral outrage.”