Evictions rise across the country as assistance and protections disappear

Jada Riley thought she had beaten homelessness.

The 26-year-old New Orleans resident was finally earning a steady income cleaning houses during the pandemic to afford a $700-a-month one-bedroom apartment. But he lost almost all of his clients after Hurricane Ida hit last year. He was then laid off from a grocery store job in February after taking time off to help a relative.

Two months behind on rent, she made the difficult decision last month to leave her apartment rather than risk an eviction lawsuit on her record. Now, she lives in her car with her 6-year-old son, sometimes spending the nights at the apartments of friends or her son’s father.

“I have slept outside for a whole year before. It’s very depressing, I’m not going to lie,” said Riley, who often doesn’t have enough money to buy gas or buy food every day.

“I don’t want my son to experience any hardship that I went through.”

Eviction filings across the country have risen steadily in recent months and are approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels in many cities and states. That contrasts sharply with the pandemic, when state and federal moratoria on evictions, combined with $46.5 billion in federal emergency rental assistance, kept millions of families housed.

“I really think this is the tip of the iceberg,” Shannon MacKenzie, executive director of the Colorado Poverty Law Project, said of June filings in Denver, which were about 24% higher than the same period three years ago. years. “Our number of evictions is increasing every month at an amazing rate, and I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon.”

According to The Eviction Lab, several cities are performing well above historical averages, with Minneapolis-St. Paul 91% higher in June, Las Vegas 56%, Hartford, Connecticut 32% and Jacksonville, Florida 17%. In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, eviction filings in July were the highest in 13 years, officials said.

Some legal advocates said the sharp rise in home prices due to inflation is partly to blame. Rental prices across the country are up nearly 15% from a year ago and nearly 25% from 2019, according to real estate firm Zillow. Meanwhile, rental vacancy rates have dropped to a 35-year low of 5.8%, according to the Census Bureau.

A report last month from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a full-time renter needs to earn nearly $26 an hour on average nationally to afford a modest two-bedroom rent and $21.25 for a one-bedroom. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

“Landlords are raising rent and making it very unaffordable for tenants to stay,” said Marie Claire Tran-Leung, project director of the National Housing Law Project’s eviction initiative.

“Inflation has really reduced the supply of housing available to people with the lowest incomes,” he added. “Without more protections in place, which not all states have, many of those families will be left homeless.”

Patrick McCloud, executive director of the Virginia Apartment Management Association, said the trend is a return to normalcy. “No one likes evictions, but in a way they are a reset to the economy,” McCloud said, adding that evictions have been “artificially depressed.”

“Housing is based on supply and demand. And when no one moves and there are no openings, you have a tight market and prices go up.”

Graham Bowman, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Ohio, said evictions are on the rise, 15% above historical averages in June alone, at a time when there are fewer places for those forced to go. .

Sheryl Lynne Smith was evicted in May from her two-bedroom home in Columbus after she used her rent money to fix a sewage leak in the basement. Smith, who is legally blind and has a federal housing voucher, fears she won’t be able to find anything by September, when her voucher expires, due to rising housing prices and the eviction on her record.

“It’s very scary,” said Smith, 53, whose temporary hotel stay funded through a state program ends this weekend.

In Boise, Idaho, Jeremy McKenney, 45, moved into his car last week after a judge sided with a property management company that nearly tripled the rent on his two-bedroom home. The Lyft and DoorDash driver will have to rent a hotel room as long as he has custody of his children, ages 9 and 12.

“It’s definitely mind-boggling,” McKenney said, adding that everything on the market is out of her hands, even after a nonprofit offered to cover the security deposit. “I have never been homeless before. I’ve always had a roof over my head.”

The other challenge is that federal emergency rental assistance that helped keep millions housed during the pandemic has dried up in some jurisdictions or been increasingly rejected by some landlords.

“What really bothers me is that there is rental assistance and so many landlords just don’t want it. They’d rather throw someone out on the street than take money,” Eric Kwartler, managing attorney for Lone Star Legal Aid’s Eviction Counseling Right Project, which covers Houston and Harris County, Texas. “If you take the money, you can’t evict them. They want them out.”

The US Treasury said last week that more than $40 billion of the $46.5 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance had been spent or allocated.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia have made at least 90% of their first disbursement. Twelve states and the District of Columbia had used 50% of the second allocation, known as ERA2, by the end of May. Three, Idaho, Ohio and Iowa, have not spent any ERA2 money and two, Nebraska and Arkansas, have not accepted the funds.

“The public health emergency may still be here, but the funding to deal with it is rapidly disappearing,” said Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation for the Legal Aid Society of Central Virginia.

The Treasury is encouraging states and cities to tap into other federal stimulus funds to fill the gaps. So far, more than 600 state and local governments have budgeted $12.9 billion in stimulus funds to meet housing needs, including affordable housing development.

Gene Sperling, who oversees President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, highlighted the success of his rental assistance program, which has reached 7 million mostly low-income households.

But more needs to be done to ensure the country doesn’t return to pre-pandemic times, when 3.6 million renters were evicted annually and “evictions were too often the first resort, not the last resort,” he said. a forum on eviction reforms. at the White House last week.

Some lawmakers said the answer is a permanent rental assistance program. A bill introduced in July would provide $3 billion annually for rental assistance and fund services to keep families housed. A study commissioned by the National Apartment Association and the National Council on Multifamily Housing says the answer is to build 4.3 million apartments by 2035.

Other advocates called for permanent legal protections, such as the right to counsel for tenants or eviction diversion programs to resolve evictions before they go to court.

In Richmond, Virginia, eviction filings in June were 54% below historical averages, which is attributed to rental assistance and increased legal representation for tenants in court, Wegbreit said. Similar programs were credited with New Mexico eviction filings 29% below historical averages in June.

Philadelphia, which passed a law making eviction diversion mandatory until this year, saw a 33% decrease in filings. The Philadelphia City Council also approved spending $30 million over two years for rental assistance.

“We’re trying to change the way we look at this problem in Philadelphia, where all you do is go to landlord-tenant court or start an eviction,” said Catherine Anderson, supervising attorney at Legal Aid of Philadelphia, who supervises paralegals on the Save Your Home Philly hotline.

Associated Press writers Jesse Bedayn in Denver, Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia, and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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