Personal Finance

A historic eviction crisis could be coming to the U.S. in days, this housing expert warns

Key Points
  • More than 10 million Americans are behind on their rent, with the national eviction ban about to expire.
  • CNBC spoke with housing expert Emily Benfer about the coming crisis and what its consequences will be for families and the U.S.

In this article

Emily Benfer
Source: Emily Benfer

Most evictions have been banned in the U.S. since last September, but that protection is now set to end in days. In August, millions of families could be pushed out of their homes.

The share of adult renters who remain behind on their housing payments — around 16% — has been slow to drop. The $45 billion in federal rental assistance allocated by Congress to address the crisis has been painfully slow to reach people, and the economic recovery has been uneven.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national eviction moratorium has faced numerous legal challenges and landlords have criticized the policy, saying they can't afford to house people for free or shoulder the country's massive rental arrears, which could be as high as $70 billion.

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CNBC spoke this week to the country's leading expert on evictions, Emily Benfer, about what we can expect to see when the ban ends on July 31.

Benfer is a visiting professor of law and public health at Wake Forest University and the chair of the American Bar Association's Task Force Committee on Eviction. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

CNBC: The CDC's eviction ban has been extended several times. Any chance that happens again?

Emily Benfer: Millions of families are facing a loss of their homes. Congress could ratify the moratorium and give the Biden administration the authority to extend it, but it sounds like they'd need a certain number of Republicans, and that support is just not there.

CNBC: How many families could face eviction come August?

EB: I've been looking at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and their analysis of the Household Pulse Survey. Their most recent count was that more than 10 million Americans are behind on their rent. They could be at risk of eviction. The other number to be looking at is the Eviction Lab's tracking system. All of those cases filed, to the extent that they haven't gone forward yet, could be scheduled for a hearing in the first weeks of August. That's over 350,000 cases that were halted in the pandemic and could go forward pretty quickly.

How evictions work in the U.S.
How evictions work in the U.S.

CNBC: Just around $3 billion out of the $45 billion Congress has allocated in rental assistance had reached households by the end of June. How surprised are you that the money is moving this slowly?

EB: It's horrifying. Cities and states, over a year ago, were facing heightened eviction risk and had the opportunities to create this infrastructure and the lack of attention and robust intervention has led to this moment where they're unprepared to prevent the eviction surge.

CNBC: How effective has the CDC's ban been at preventing evictions?

EB: While it had its shortcomings, it was still instrumental at keeping filings far lower than normal. We could have seen twice as many eviction cases across the country than what we saw during this period.

CNBC: Despite the uptick in vaccine rates and improvements to the economy, the number of people behind on their rent hasn't really dropped since March. Why do you think this is?

EB: Only a fraction of the rental assistance has reached the people who are at the highest risk of eviction.

CNBC: Who will be hardest hit by the crisis?

EB: When the moratorium expires, the people who will be facing evictions will predominantly be from historically marginalized communities, so Black families, mothers and children.

CNBC: What are the some of the biggest consequences of an eviction?

EB: We know that eviction increases infection and mortality related to Covid, and we also know vaccination rates are the lowest in the communities with the highest risk of eviction at this moment. Eviction makes it incredibly challenging to secure housing in the future because it creates a mark on a person's record. Eviction prevention must be our national priority. Without it, we'll see multi-generational impacts that our country will be hard-pressed to ever recover from.

Are you at risk of eviction? If you're willing to share your story for an upcoming article, please email me at