Millions of Americans dread the day when, turning the page of the calendar, they will come across the date of July 31.
On that day, the measure that paralyzed the expulsions in the country comes to an end. Landlords will be able to evict tenants who are behind in rent.
The measure was imposed in September by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), criminalizing evictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was a way to protect those who had lost their jobs. It also prevented people from crowding into the homes or shelters of loved ones after being evicted. This is just when being overcrowded increases the chances of catching the deadly virus.
The feeling that the pandemic is ending – a misconception, scientists say – has brought the country back to its pre-pandemic routine. It also means ending these protections.
The problem is that 7.4 million people in 2.8 million households are behind on their rent. According to an official poll, 3.2 million believe they are at risk of deportation in the next two months.
The risk is not evenly distributed among the population, explains Shamus Roller. He is the Executive Director of the National Housing Law Project, which provides legal support to tenants.
“It is no surprise to anyone that immigrants, blacks, Latinos and workers in the service sector will be the most affected by deportations,” he says. These are the most vulnerable populations in the United States, and they are also the most economically affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, that is to say those who have the most difficulty paying rent.
Some states will also be more affected than others, according to Roller. While the CDC rule applies nationwide, some states have flouted it and allowed evictions during the pandemic, such as in Tennessee and Texas. In other states, authorities have created additional measures that must remain in place, protecting tenants beyond July — California.
One of the states likely to be affected is Florida, which has followed the CDC’s order to some extent. The arrival of July 31 is expected to impact a population that was previously protected.
The evictions will be particularly dire for those who live in cities like Miami. Rent there was up to 24% more expensive there compared to the previous year, according to the British magazine The Economist, as many people return to work in person.
The federal government is aware of the risk. Congress has allocated $ 46 billion in rent assistance funds. However, bureaucratic obstacles hinder the distribution of this money.
According to the Treasury, less than 7% of the amount has been delivered. In cases like California, tenants take up to three hours to complete the paperwork.
This is where the work of organizations like Casa Chirilagua comes in, which serves the needy population of a neighborhood in Alexandria. The city is close to the capital, Washington.
Officials helped residents fill out forms to apply for government financial assistance. Help is particularly welcome for those who have difficulty reading English documents or using a computer.
“Many homeowners we interact with have already started filing eviction orders,” says Liz Wang, community director of Casa Chirilagua.
Half of the families served by the organization have not recovered the jobs lost during the Covid-19 pandemic and, as a result, cannot pay what they owe. Landlords can file an eviction request by the 31st, but the eviction of the tenant itself does not take place until August, according to CDC policy.
The consequences of an eviction go beyond the immediate loss of housing and increased exposure to the virus. The eviction is registered and the tenant has difficulty in finding new accommodation to rent in the future.
The residential crisis is not just about the pandemic. According to the government, more than 580,000 people live on the streets. Roller of the National Housing Law Project says the country stopped investing in affordable housing in the 1980s. He praises Joe Biden’s government for reinvesting in the area. “Only, it will take years to repair four decades of damage.”
There is still a need to rethink the country’s eviction laws, Roller says. The legislation favors landlords and leaves tenants vulnerable, according to its assessment.
One example is the ease and speed with which owners of an apartment or house can evict a resident. “We allow the eviction of people who owe a few hundred dollars, leaving families in a spiral of instability from which they cannot escape.”