Housing insecurity during COVID-19
COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our lives. As of April 2020, the national unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7 percent, putting 20.5 million people out of work. In North Carolina, the unemployment rate reached 12.2%, the highest it’s been in modern history. With millions out of work, Americans have been forced to make difficult choices between paying for rent or other necessities like food and medical care. Prior to COVID-19, low-income renters were already housing cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent with some households paying over 50% of their income towards housing. Without employment income or significant savings, these households are now at risk of eviction.
Temporary solution – eviction moratorium
As part of the CAREs Act, an moratorium on evictions due to COVID-19 related non-payment of rent protects households living in certain types of federally subsidized rental properties through the end of the July, 2020. Though temporarily pausing evictions is a step in the right direction, only one in every four renters live in a qualifying property. This leaves the housing stability of millions of households in the hands of landlords who are also facing their own economic pressures. Many small-scale landlords risk foreclosure if they are unable to collect rent and pay the mortgages on their properties. While some states implemented additional eviction prevention at various levels, all renters will soon lose any remaining protections against evictions.
What happens when the moratorium is lifted?
Most federal eviction moratoriums are set to expire at the end of the summer. To make matters even worse, the $600-per-week federal boost to unemployment benefits is also scheduled to end in July. When the moratorium is lifted, millions of households who have been without a steady source of income for months will suddenly need to pay for months of back-rent plus their rent moving forward. Most housing experts foresee a dramatic increase in evictions. Threats of evictions will be felt even more drastically within the Black and Latinx communities as they are twice as likely as white households to rent. Some states have already ended their moratoriums and are now seeing a massive influx of evictions. Most eviction cases being reviewed right now pre-date COVID-19 but even these numbers are shockingly high. In 2016, 62,539 North Carolina households were evicted. With these high pre-COVID eviction rates, agencies can only begin to imagine the number of evictions to be filed after moratoriums are lifted.
Long term solution – rental subsidies
Housing experts urge federal and state governments to increase rental subsidies to prevent evictions and associated foreclosures. Tenant-based rental subsidies cover the difference between what the tenant can pay in rent and what the unit costs, allowing the tenant to remain stably housed and the landlord to continue making their mortgage payments, preventing foreclosure. “Vouchers would assist families until their incomes rise enough that they can afford housing on their own.” A minimum of 500,000 additional rental subsidies are needed to provide housing for those experiencing homelessness and households at risk of losing their housing due to COVID-19. States must also do their part to prevent increased homelessness during this pandemic. North Carolina House Bill 1200 proposes $200 million in federal relief funds be distributed as emergency grants to pay mortgages, rents, and utilities helping to keep thousands of families housed.
What you can do
Most people, 93%, support increasing available rental subsidies for people at risk of homelessness. You too can help prevent evictions for households who lost their incomes due to COVID-19. CASA has been able to secure grants and donations to help cover the rents for our tenants who have lost their income due to COVID-19. While our tenants may be secure, many other households do not have these same supports. Consider reaching out to your state and federal legislators and ask them to support HB 1200 in North Carolina and address housing insecurity on a federal level. Every voice counts and can help keep a family housed during these turbulent times.