Eviction bans can’t last forever. What are long-term solutions?

·Senior Editor
·7 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday extended a ban on evictions in areas of the country experiencing “substantial or high levels” of coronavirus transmission, categories that include about 80 percent of counties in the United States.

The new extension replaces a nationwide eviction moratorium that the CDC issued in September under the belief that allowing people to stay in their homes — and not forcing them into crowded living situations like homeless shelters — would help stem the spread of the virus. While there’s evidence that the ban did help reduce community transmission, there have been heated debates about the merits of keeping it in place as the number of COVID cases has dipped from the winter peak.

The emergence of the Delta variant informed the decision to issue another extension, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. President Biden added that the new order will give states more time to distribute the $45 billion set aside by Congress to help struggling Americans pay off rental debt. Due to bureaucratic delays and lack of awareness of the program, only a small percentage of those funds have been distributed.

About 3.6 million American households said they were likely to face eviction without a moratorium in place, according to the Census Bureau. The financial fallout of the pandemic has exacerbated housing insecurity in the U.S., but there were still millions of evictions filed each year before COVID-19 hit. The impact of eviction goes beyond the challenges of losing housing. Research shows that being evicted can have a range of long-lasting negative effects, including worsening mental and physical health, hunger, unemployment, homelessness and difficulty finding adequate housing for years into the future.

Why there’s debate

The new eviction moratorium is set to expire Oct. 3, though it's possible the Supreme Court could strike it down well before that. Regardless of when the moratorium ends, evictions will resume in the U.S. eventually. Housing experts say more substantial changes are needed to prevent both an immediate surge in homelessness that could come once protections are gone and the less dramatic — but no less harmful — stream of evictions that happen in a normal year.

One of the most common suggestions for directly addressing housing insecurity is a dramatic expansion of vouchers, a system where government funds help cover a portion of rent for low-income households. There are also widespread calls for stronger protections for renters who are facing evictions, like a guaranteed right to counsel or eviction diversion programs that help resolve landlord-tenant disputes outside of a courtroom. Others say tenant protections must be accompanied by aid to landlords who lose rental income when tenants can’t pay.

Many experts also argue that preventing the millions of evictions that happen each year will require more dramatic tackling of the fundamental cause of housing insecurity: Rents are simply too expensive for a huge share of Americans. Addressing that problem could include raising the minimum wage to changing zoning laws that limit construction to investments in affordable housing and dramatically increasing the supply of government-owned homes.

What’s next

The new moratorium has already led to a wave of lawsuits from real estate and landlord groups hoping to have the ban invalidated by the courts. The Supreme Court allowed the previous order to stay in place in a 5-4 ruling earlier this summer, but legal experts say the new ban is on much shakier footing if and when it eventually makes its way to the nation’s top court.

Perspectives

Workers need higher wages so they can afford housing

“These workers have long been essential, but it has taken the COVID-19 pandemic for them to be acknowledged as such, and it is taking businesses even longer to raise wages to compensate them. Essential and low-wage workers should be compensated enough to reflect the critical roles they play in the economy.” — Carl Romer and Andre M. Perry, Brookings

Access to housing vouchers should be expanded dramatically

“Research shows that housing vouchers have real positive impacts on families, making it easier to afford food, access quality schools and reducing the risk of homelessness. By helping to ensure a stable and enriching environment, housing vouchers put children on the path to a brighter future — from better health and academic outcomes to long-term financial success. Housing vouchers also help keep families together and reduce the risk of domestic violence.” — Bill Faith, Columbus Dispatch

Housing should be treated as a fundamental right defended by the government

“We should move our housing billions out of the private market and into social housing, built on a foundation of full public-sector ownership and management. In so doing, we will commit to democratic control of housing, which will minimize costs and include mechanisms to remedy race and income segregation.” — Fran Quigley, Jacobin

The U.S. needs to dramatically increase its supply of affordable housing

“Investments in affordable, accessible housing that respond to the needs of communities where people want to live and are constructed for various family and household compositions are essential for ensuring healthy communities. Housing is a human right, and not protecting renters is negligent and malicious.” — Jaboa Lake, The Hill

A limited ban should be made permanent and paired with relief for landlords

“An enduring ‘not-my-fault’ defense should apply only to tenants who did nothing wrong and who have no other housing option. It should be paired with relief on the landlord side of the ledger. After all, the landlord isn't to blame for a tenant's sudden hardship.” — Juliet Brodie and Larisa Bowman, CNN

All renters facing eviction should have a right to legal representation

“Housing and eviction laws are notoriously difficult to navigate, so the process is heavily tilted in favor of those who have attorneys. In the vast majority of cases, landlords have lawyers and tenants do not. That’s why tenant protections have to be coupled with expanded legal support for renters.” — Editorial, Los Angeles Times

Programs should be created to make vouchers more appealing to landlords

“Making it easier and more lucrative for landlords to rent to voucher recipients needs to be part of any renewed federal push to solve the nation’s affordable housing crisis.” — Dani Isaacsohn, Politico

Eviction diversion programs are a more equitable way to resolve housing disputes

“The Eviction Diversion Program has benefits for everyone involved. Renters can avoid eviction records that prevent them from finding stable housing in the future and can negotiate agreements that keep them housed — particularly as we recover from the pandemic and resulting economic crisis. Landlords can avoid attorney and court costs and access rental assistance funds. In addition, communities, schools, and social ties can remain intact when neighbors avoid eviction.” — Tyra Bryant-Stephens and Alonzo South, Philadelphia Inquirer

Solving the problem starts with having the data to properly identify who needs help

“We have allowed low-income tenants to exist at the peripheries of society and of our safety nets, to the point that reaching them, even when there is aid available, becomes a massive, expensive, and often impossible undertaking. ... We’re watching in real time what happens when we don’t know enough about renters at risk of eviction. It’s time for a federal rental registry.” — Jerusalem Demsas, Vox

Regulations that limit construction must be eliminated

“The eviction moratoriums set forth by local governments and the CDC were, at best, stopgap measures. However, we have a real housing need, and our policies at the local, state, and federal level are not helping developers solve the problem. Drastic deregulatory measures are needed to incentivize construction by reducing the cost of building. There is demand; all we need to do is unleash supply.” — Sean-Michael Pigeon, National Review

The ban is only making the long-term eviction problem worse

“The economic emergency has long passed and many landlords are struggling to pay their mortgages and utilities. ... The moral imperative now is to let landlords collect rent so they can stay in business and avoid bankruptcies that would lead to cascading damage throughout the rental housing market.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal

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