fbpx

COVID Resources: Preventing Evictions

August 2020 in , ,

Our nation is in the midst of a housing crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Under our nation’s system of racial capitalism, housing serves more as a financial asset or investment than a basic human right. The current system disproportionately harms working-class, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color (BIPOC)—leaving them out of both asset building opportunities and housing protections. Evictions already place a disproportionate harm on Black women and their families, who are almost four times as likely to be evicted as households led by white men. Housing stability has always been a civil rights issue that directly descends from our nation’s history of segregation and racist housing practices. 

Now, with the pandemic and economic crisis already harming Black Americans and people of color at astonishing rates, inaction by policymakers will drastically intensify the housing crisis, destroy the lives of millions of people, and destabilize our entire nation.

As of September 4, there is now a federal eviction moratorium from the CDC that extends protections to some renters at risk of eviction for nonpayment of rent during the COVID pandemic. For more on this, see  NLIHC for this overview of the moratorium and this FAQ for Renters. At-risk renters should contact their local legal aid  offices, tenant associations, or local bar associations ASAP.  

In addition to pressuring Congress to pass emergency rental assistance, broaden eviction preventions, and suspend rent and mortgage payments, what action can state lawmakers take?

First, see how your state ranks on Eviction Lab’s COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard. Then consider what immediate emergency measures your state needs to prevent mass evictions and what longer-term solutions should come next.

IMMEDIATE MEASURES

Whether by bringing legislation (if in session) or by pressuring the governor, these are key policies to consider to immediately put in place:  

  • Rent and Mortgage Cancellation
    • Rent cancellation has been pushed at both the state and federal level 
      • At the federal level, H.R. 6515 would cancel all rent and mortgage payments
      • Several states have also introduced legislation which would cancel rent for tenants financially harmed by COVID-19. Illinois, New York, and New Jersey all introduced legislation to cancel rent, and Massachusetts introduced legislation which would have placed a freeze on rent increases. 
  • Eviction freezes and moratoriums
    • States across the country took action to place a moratorium on evictions either for the duration of the crisis or a shorter time period through executive, legislative, and judicial action. While the moratoriums prevented the immediate evictions of renters, they have been criticized by tenants and housing justice groups as simply differing an inevitable “avalanche of evictions”, without broader relief.
      • State legislatures across the country passed legislation either extending, expanding, or establishing their own eviction moratoriums. Two of the stronger bills were passed in Massachusetts and Oregon.
  • Rental grace period/ Reasonable repayment plans: Once eviction moratoria lift, tenants who miss their rent payment will still be liable for unpaid rent, but few will be able to pay that rent all at once. Legislators should mandate that landlords provide reasonable rent repayment plans. 
    • Oregon HB 4213 gives tenants a six-month grace period following the end of the moratorium to pay the balance of unpaid rent
  • Emergency rental assistance and cash directly to Americans:
  • Extend access to rental assistance funds to all people, regardless of immigration status.
    • See NILC’s resources for more information. 
    • 8 USC 1621(b) creates an exception for emergency disaster relief and certain assistance programs

LONGER TERM 

The national housing crisis will exist past the end of the pandemic, and we need systemic solutions to provide affordable housing and protect renters. These are key policies that states can pursue:

  • Rent control and rent stabilization 
    • New York, California, and Oregon became the first states to pass statewide rent control legislation in 2019, limiting the amount landlords can increase rents year-to-year. 
    • Legislators Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey each introduced rent control bills in 2020, while New York and California attempted to strengthen and expand their existing laws
  • Just Cause eviction laws
    • Just cause eviction extends protections to renters by limiting the reasons landlords can evict a tenant to failure to pay rent and material breach of a lease 
    • Cities like Seattle, Oakland, Berkeley all have just-cause protections, while New Jersey, California, and Oregon have enacted legislation at the state level.
  • Homes for All
    • Homes for All has emerged as a demand for renewed investment in publicly-owned, permanently affordable housing, also known as social housing.
      • At the federal level, Homes for All legislation has been introduced that would construct 9.5 million units of public housing, and 2.5 million units of affordable, privately-owned housing.
      • At the the state level, legislators in Maryland introduced legislation which would construct 2,000 units of permanently affordable, publicly-owned, mixed-income housing. 
  • Take housing out of the rent court system 
  • Establish housing as a human right
    • Local governments, like Dane County, WI, have passed resolutions to acknowledge housing as a human right, and other states like Hawaii, Connecticut, and California have attempted to pass legislation at the state level.
  • Affordable housing trust funds; protect existing stock of affordable housing 
  • Change zoning laws 
    • The city of Minneapolis ended single-family zoning and increased the minimum zoning density in its 2020 comprehensive plan
    • Oregon enacted legislation in 2019 to require cities over 10,000 people to allow duplexes on single-family zoned lots, and requires the city of Portland to allow quadplexes and “cottage clusters” on single-family zoned lots. 
  • Source of income as protected category
    • Multiple states and local jurisdiction have banned landlords from discriminating against working-class tenants by making source of income a protected category. These protections often include social security, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, housing vouchers, alimony, child-payments, and other public assistance programs
  • Automatic moratorium on eviction filings, execution of writs, and utility shutoff during an emergency like a public health epidemic. 
  • Suppress court records to prevent the permanent “Scarlet E:” Evictions and eviction filings result in an adverse housing record for tenants. A statewide eviction moratorium should include a provision to suppress court records related to a tenant’s eviction and rental debt accrued due to pandemic-related hardship.
    • Minneapolis and Portland have both limited the ability for landlords to screen tenants. Among the protections, landlords can not consider evictions which occurred over three years prior.
    • Colorado passed legislation that suppresses eviction records while cases are proceeding, and removes them if a case is dismissed. Unfortunately, the eviction is not suppressed if the landlord wins and an eviction is ordered.
  • Boost enforcement and penalties: Eviction law should prevent unlawful evictions and increase penalties for landlords who cut power, threaten their tenants, or otherwise attempt to push tenants out of their homes while eviction moratoria are in place. 
  • Develop rental relief funds
  • Extend tenant cure periods 
  • Right to counsel for eviction cases and advice services
  • Court-based programs and policies

RESOURCES: 

To watch and listen:

Organizations, online resources, and written materials: