Personal Finance

The number of struggling renters isn't dropping

Key Points
  • Even with the darkest days of the pandemic behind us, the number of renters in financial trouble isn't falling.
  • Many families won't be able to pay off their debts until rental assistance reaches them.
  • Yet that $45 billion in aid passed by Congress to address the crisis has been bafflingly slow to reach households.
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The end of eviction protections combined with the snail-paced distribution of federal rental assistance means that the struggles for renters aren't going away anytime soon.

More than 6 million households remain behind on rent payments, a figure that has only worsened of late, despite Congress' unprecedented allocation of funding for renters in distress.

That $45 billion in aid has been bafflingly slow to reach families.

By the end of August, just around $5 billion had been spent, even though the funding was approved in stimulus packages passed in December and then March. Fewer than 1 million households had been helped.

Even as the worst of the pandemic appears behind us and unemployment levels drop, many renters won't be able to clear up their arrears until they receive the federal aid.

The average debt in Maryland, where nearly 19% of renters continue to be behind, is more than $4,500, according to data provided to CNBC by Surgo Ventures, a nonprofit organization focusing on health and data.

The typical balance in California, where 15% of renters are not caught up, is closer to $5,200.

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The troubles are even greater in certain counties: Around 1 in 4 renters are behind in the Bronx, New York. A study earlier this year by New York University found that thousands of renters in New York City have debts in excess of $10,000.

"Our rental arrears crisis is one that has a solution: There are funds available to renting families to help them pay their rent," said Dr. Sema Sgaier, co-founder and CEO of Surgo Ventures and an adjunct assistant professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"But those funds aren't being handed out quickly enough, and our analysis shows that."

Advocates blame the troubled rollout of the funds on complicated applications and short-staffing across the hundreds of organizations tasked with giving out the aid.

"Public officials are more concerned about so-called scammers getting this money than they are about the people who truly need it," said Dan Rose, an assistant professor of sociology at Winston-Salem State University and an organizer with Housing Justice Now.

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Eviction moratorium struck down by Supreme Court

The long waits have become only more vexing for families after the Supreme Court decided last month to overturn the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national eviction ban. The court said the health agency had exceeded its authority with the policy, which also drew the ire of landlords.

Although the persistence of some state eviction bans will keep renters protected over the next few months, more than 2 million people could be at immediate risk of eviction, a new analysis by the Urban Institute found.

That could be the largest eviction crisis the country has experienced.

"It is very possible that this one may be unprecedented, especially if rental assistance does not get out to the people who need it," said Christopher Davis, a data scientist at the Urban Institute.

Are you struggling to get approved for rental assistance? If you're willing to share your story, please email me at annie.nova@nbcuni.com