An eviction moratorium put in place at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. expires today, putting tens of millions of households at risk of losing their homes as the pandemic worsens in many parts of the country.
The eviction ban, created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, applied to federally assisted properties. A narrower ban, applying to government-backed properties that are in forbearance, is still in effect. Some states and cities have also extended their own moratoriums applying to all renters, though many others have already expired.
Almost one-third of households missed their housing payments at the beginning of this month, with renters more likely to miss a payment than homeowners. The most recent survey from the U.S. Census Bureau found that almost 24 million Americans have little or no confidence that they can pay next month's rent. That's one-third of all renters.
Under normal circumstances, missing even one payment can be grounds for eviction.
And in fact, 19 to 23 million — or 1 in 5 — people living in renter households are at risk of eviction by October, according to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, a coalition of economic researchers and legal experts.
Housing advocates and many lawmakers have been calling for a uniform, nationwide eviction ban, rent cancellation and other relief measures since the beginning of the crisis.
So far, housing relief has not been included in drafts of the stimulus package the Senate is working on, according to a memo reviewed by CNBC Make It. But it is likely Democrats in the House will push for those provisions to be included in a final version of the bill, says Nick Wing, a media strategist with the Justice Collaborative.
In May, the House included $100 billion in emergency rental assistance in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act, and passed the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020 separately to address the housing crisis. Neither bill is expected to pass the Senate.
As Congress debates the next stimulus bill, the housing crisis is likely to get worse: About 30 million Americans will see unemployment benefits drop by about two-thirds after this week as enhanced unemployment benefits expire. Many used that money to pay their housing bills and other essentials.
Low income communities and people of color are particularly vulnerable, facing the brunt of layoffs and financial devastation over the past four months. If mass evictions begin in the middle of a pandemic, already vulnerable communities could be harmed for generations, Erica Smiley, executive director of Jobs with Justice, a workers' rights nonprofit, tells CNBC Make It.
"The level of residual problems that this will cause for everyone — in terms of their exposure to sickness, in terms of their anxiety and potential violence — can't be underestimated," says Smiley. "If you don't have a home, it's hard to keep your family safe in a pandemic."
Not only that, but "you're calling the police on Black people and Brown people in a moment when we're having a national reckoning with the police's behavior," she says, referring to the months-long nationwide protests against police brutality. Those communities are already anxious about dealing with the police, and having them present during an eviction could create even more tension. "That doesn't make any of us safe."
The best thing Congress can do to prevent mass homelessness and help the housing sector overall is provide rental assistance, Flora Arabo, national senior director of state and local policy at affordable housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, tells CNBC Make It. "That is money that flows to the landlord," says Arabo. "They can pay their lender and the lender can pay their investor."
Providing funding for nonprofit housing counselors would also help, she says. These counselors could help renters negotiate with their landlords and understand their rights, or help homeowners restructure their loans.
Whatever Congress does, they need to "move swiftly" and think long-term to help their vulnerable constituents, she says.
"This is not a problem that's going to go away in a couple months," she says. "It's not a problem that gets solved with one stimulus check."
If you are worried about eviction, it is important to know your rights, Cea Weaver, statewide campaign coordinator for the Housing Justice for All coalition, previously told CNBC Make It. While laws vary drastically depending on the state and even city you live in, the formal eviction process can take weeks or months. During that time, you can stay in your home. And you should.
Be sure to contact a lawyer immediately. Your local Legal Aid office can help you find free counsel, says Weaver. You can also search for local housing nonprofits or rental assistance programs, which you can find a list of here. If you're having trouble, a local tenant's organization can help connect you to a lawyer or another nonprofit legal group.
Legal Services is an independent non-profit that helps low-income households with issues like eviction. Finally, you can call your local elected officials to see if they can help direct you to local resources and aid.