A federal ban on evictions is poised to expire on July 31, putting millions of renters at risk of being thrown out of their homes in coming weeks as state and local officials struggle to distribute $46 billion in rental assistance to tenants and landlords across the country.
More than 15 million people living in the U.S. are behind on their rental payments and could face eviction when the moratorium lapses on Saturday, according to a new study published Wednesday by the Aspen Institute and COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. Collectively, those households – a majority of which are low-income and suffered financially during the pandemic – owe an estimated $21 billion in rent, figures published by the National Equity Atlas show.
"These renters may face eviction, civil lawsuits for unpaid rent, and aggressive debt collection — crises that will continue to cause harm years into the future," the study said.
At the same time, landlords have been crushed by the moratorium; though many are no longer collecting rent, they're still on the hook for taxes, maintenance expenses and other bills. On average, tenants owe about $3,000 in unpaid rent to landlords.
The impending problems have been confounded by difficulty in distributing the $46 billion in federal aid to renters and landlords that Congress approved between December and March. Over the course of the first half of the year, officials doled out just $3 billion – roughly 6.6% of the $46 billion program intended to keep millions of renters in their homes. In total, the program has provided relief to a fraction of the 1.2 million households that have reported being "very likely to face eviction in the next two months," the Treasury Department said last week.
"State and local governments must do more to accelerate aid to struggling renters and expand programs to meet the scale of assistance needed," the Treasury said, adding: "While some state and local programs are increasingly reaching households in need, others lag far behind, and many programs have just launched in recent weeks. Money is available in every state to help renters at risk of eviction – and the urgency has never been greater."
How much money tenants and landlords receive hinges on several factors, including income and location. In some cases, individuals may get enough money to cover rent from March 2020. The problem, however, is that many states and cities did not have the necessary equipment in place to distribute the money and as a result, have struggled to dispense it.
There are several reasons for the delay in delivering the money, according to the report published by the Aspen Institute and COVID-19 Defense Projection, including high documentation burdens, long payment timelines and insufficient infrastructure for rental assistance support.
"Even when tenants facing eviction successfully make it through the application process, payments can take weeks or months—too slow to guarantee that funds will be available before a court orders an eviction," the report said.
Congressional Democrats, local officials and other advocacy groups have been warning that when the pause lapsed at the end of the month, there could be a tidal wave of evictions. But the Biden administration, which pushed back the pause by one month at the end of June, has indicated that it would be the final extension.
Although some states, including California and New York, have in place their own eviction moratoriums that last beyond July, there are about 40 states that have no protections in place for renters, according to Nolo.com, a legal website.
The CDC first instituted the eviction freeze last September in order to stave off what experts warned could become the most severe housing crisis in decades.