The Ongoing Rent Crisis
With unprecedented levels of unemployment due to the COVID-19 crisis, many tenants are struggling to keep up with their next rent payment. According to the Brookings Institution, the poorest 20% of households spend more than half of their earnings on housing expenses. Additionally, tenants typically have lower salaries and less job stability than homeowners. Thus, many do not have enough savings in preparation for emergency situations, such as a recession caused by a worldwide pandemic. The financial strain on tenants can already be seen: in the first week of April, 31% of renters were not able to pay their dues- an 11% increase from an average month. With no end to the pandemic in sight, America’s rent crisis will only continue to balloon if critical action is not taken. Despite beliefs that renters should be held to their contract, the dire circumstance creates the need for nationwide rent relief in order to prevent the eviction of low–income residents, which would result in significant personal and social impact.
Effects of Evictions
Widespread evictions have a devastating effect on not just the direct victims, but also the societal progress made in recent decades. Researchers at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation concluded that around 50 million tenants belong to households that have experienced job or income loss due to COVID-19. Any one of these people may be at risk of losing their housing due to missed rent. People who have been evicted are left with terrible credit scores, making it even harder to find housing. This often results in a transition to neighborhoods with higher crime rates and less resources. Numerous studies also show that the traumatizing experience of eviction can lead to depression, respiratory diseases, and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, those most at risk of losing their homes are disproportionately minorities. A survey found that after controlling for education, black households are more than twice as likely to be evicted as white households. Without federal aid, the housing crisis will undoubtedly deepen the socioeconomic divide between white and minority citizens. By ensuring that renters are able to maintain their housing situation, the disastrous consequences of displacing millions of citizens would be averted.
To prevent a surge in evictions, some cities and states have enacted eviction moratoriums, which prohibit renters from being evicted. However, they are still expected to pay the full amount of their missed rent at a later date. While this provides temporary relief, most tenants will likely still be evicted when these temporary measures end. Additionally, the lack of rent impacts the local economy; landlords use rent to pay property taxes, which goes towards funding essential services, such as healthcare and welfare benefits. With state government budgets already stretched thin due to pandemic related emergencies, tax money is needed more than ever. Thus, a better approach to the rent crisis would be through a federal aid package that provides rental assistance so that tenants would be able to pay their full rent on time.
On the other hand, some lawmakers have pushed back against a renter bailout. In March, Governor Cuomo stated that “you can’t be evicted for non-payment of rent, but it’s not that you won’t owe rent”. His main argument was that the tenant had “signed a contract”, and the people who collect rent also “have bills to pay”. Although this reasoning is completely logical in normal circumstances, residents should not be held responsible for an emergency event that no one could have predicted. Instead of forcing tenants to pay their culminated rent at a later date, a more effective approach would be providing additional stimulus checks to individuals. People would then be able to pay for their everyday needs, such as food, housing, and medical expenses. The money ensures that landlords receive their rent on time and pay property taxes to fund local government services, while relieving tenants of a stressful burden.
America is in the middle of a global crisis that has affected people from all walks of life, especially lower–income citizens. Millions of households financially impacted by the pandemic are at risk of losing their homes- a situation that would devastate local economies. In order to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on communities, the government must issue a comprehensive federal aid package that puts funds directly in the hands of citizens.