Koz Ware was looking forward to 2020. After working in an accountant position throughout his 20s, he was finally earning enough to quit and devote himself full time to his passionate DJing events project.
Ware and his wife had just welcomed their third child and the couple were feeling well enough financially to move from their apartment to a house in Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Then COVID-19 hit. Within days, all of Ware’s upcoming concerts were canceled without any rescheduling plans. He tried to find his old job. Although his former employer was sympathetic, they had to let the staff go because of the pandemic, so re-hiring him was out of the question, he said.
Ware’s wife’s job did not allow the family to make ends meet. As the weeks turned into months, the couple juggled their bills, trying to prioritize the most essentials.
“In July, we stopped paying for my wife’s car and missed the August rent,” Ware said.
Ware says he tried to contact the rental management company and completed Arizona’s mandatory COVID-19 forms. In the meantime, the family paid the rent to the best of their ability, but “we could never pay more than half of our $ 2,000 monthly rent,” he said.
As summer turned to fall, the couple also looked for more affordable accommodation and eventually found a smaller apartment. But a week before their move, Ware returned home with an eviction notice on his doorstep.
Risk of expulsion
Despite state moratoriums on evictions, as well as a nationwide order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention temporarily stopping residential evictions during the COVID-19 crisis, many tenants are still at risk.
In the 27 cities monitoring by Princeton University’s eviction lab, homeowners had filed more than 151,000 evictions since the start of the pandemic.
Even families like Ware who file hardship forms are not exempt.
The CDC order allows landlords to challenge tenants’ COVID hardship reports in court – something many have done, said James Ryan, president of Time for Homes, a nonprofit based in Albany, New York. .
“It’s pretty incredible to see how some areas blatantly flout the Advice from the CDC, ”Ryan told Al Jazeera. “Overall, landlords know how to navigate the system with a lot more knowledge than tenants – especially those who are struggling economically and who certainly can’t afford to hire a lawyer.”
It was true for the goods. Their eviction notice required them to attend a virtual court hearing. Ware said he explained to the judge that he had filed documents about the COVID hardship, but the judge told him his documents were never received. Ware lost the case.
He and his family managed to put together an apartment for the week before their new apartment was ready. But the eviction will be a black mark on its financial history for many years to come.
“We’re going to have an eviction to our credit , as well as repossession and maximum credit cards, ”he said.
Still, he considers himself lucky. “We have not become homeless,” Ware said.
A housing and public health crisis
Not everyone will have the chance to escape homelessness, experts fear, as the eviction crisis in the United States is about to worsen.
The moratorium on CDC evictions expires on December 31. Unless Congress passes a new virus assistance bill before the end of the year that continues to support struggling tenants, experts fear millions of people may lose their homes or lose their homes. facing a precarious financial situation even as COVID-19 continues. to sweep across the country.
The scale of the problem is enormous. Some nine million US households were in arrears on rent payments as of Nov. 9, according to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. This represents around 18% of all tenant-occupied units in the country.
And more than six million households were “not convinced” that they would be able to pay next month’s rent, according to the Pulse Survey.
“There is a popular saying that most people are only one or two paychecks off the street. This has never been truer than it is now, ”said Ryan.
When the moratorium expires, tenants will have to pay more than the current month’s payment.
The CDC order does not cancel missed payments or late fees – so when it expires, tenants are responsible for all of those arrears, which few can afford to pay while 10 million jobs lost at the start of the pandemic have not yet returned.
There is also a potential impact on public health if people are evicted and forced to live in crowded homeless shelters or on the streets. Modeling by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania projects that in all scenarios “evictions lead to a significant increase in infections”.
A new study by researchers at UCLA and Johns Hopkins University has found that lifting the moratoriums on evictions has a real impact on cases and deaths. Their study, which is under peer review, compared states with deportation moratoria in place between March and September with those that lifted them, finding that lifting the moratoria resulted in an additional 433,700 cases of deportation. COVID-19 and around 10,700 additional deaths.
Without a federal moratorium, experts fear that a patchwork of local and state laws will not go far enough to stop the potential damage to public health and the economy.
“Ideally, the new administration will enact a national moratorium on evictions to ensure that people can shelter safely in place,” Emily Benfer, visiting law professor at the University of Wake Forest and director, told Al Jazeera. Founder of the Wake Forest Health Justice Clinic. .
“Studies overwhelmingly show that evictions lead to unemployment, residential instability, homelessness, academic decline and negative consequences on the health of adults and children,” said Benfer. “These results are costing communities and taxpayers a lot more than solving the housing affordability crisis itself.
A new report from the University of Arizona James E Rogers College of Law and the National Low Income Housing Initiative estimates that the public cost of homelessness linked to evictions during the pandemic could be as high as $ 128 billion.
The deeply partisan political climate in the United States doesn’t help either. Ryan said where he works in New York, Republicans and Democrats recognize there is a looming problem – but don’t appear to be able to work together to act before the CDC’s moratorium expires, leaving the pending tenants.
“It seems like everyone agrees it’s a problem, but no one is ready to show the courage to really act. It’s amazing, ”Ryan said.
Meanwhile, homeowners take action – and people lose their homes, with long-term repercussions on everything from their credit rating to their health.
“Tenants whose evictions are on their record are often excluded by landlords, even though the tenant ultimately wins the case,” Benfer said. “They receive bad credit scores and are forced to move into rental housing in unsanitary conditions that pose a threat to their health and safety.”
“Evictions, in particular, almost always lead to a downward move to dilapidated housing, to a more disadvantaged and higher crime neighborhood,” she added.