COVID brought out some of the best and worst in humanity. For many, the sudden loss of a job – no matter how temporary, was the glancing blow that was now forcing them into complete poverty. In response to these concerns, the feds decided to put a moratorium on evictions. This made getting people out of houses that were delinquent on rent or their mortgage near impossible.
Many landlords felt slighted by this decision. It was quite literally preventing them from getting the money they were owed for goods/services they provided. In turn, their employees still needed to be paid for doing repairs, leasing new properties, or a multitude of other things. The bank that may have owned their mortgage also wanted to still be paid too. The feds saw what a problem they had created and responded with grant programs to guarantee the rent. This meant those most deeply affected by the pandemic could still maintain the basic necessities.
What many didn’t understand were the strings that would come with applying for these grants, and how the help was only short-term. This was a subject that needed a long-term answer, but none is available. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has been doing everything they can to help, but only 29 states have laws making it illegal for landlords to accept help with the rent, and then kicking them out. Even in those states it only provides 30 days to 12 months of assurance. Given the length of this pandemic, that isn’t very long.
CEO Diane Yentel spoke out about the programs. “We are in the middle of a severe affordable housing crisis with gaping holes in our social safety net. We have a systemic power imbalance that favors landlords at the expense of low-income tenants. Emergency rental assistance and eviction moratoriums were a temporary patch to those holes.” As evidenced by the multitudes of Americans who have found themselves homeless due to the pandemic, The Coalition can only do so much when faced with such a gigantic legal battle.
Many will point out the larger problem at hand; rents that are spiraling out of control. Given the lack of information, tenants are provided on “comps” for their rent, it is up to the discretion of the landlord to increase the rent when the lease is up. The tenant has no grounds to argue the market rate, and even if they do, the landlord is under no obligation to listen. For month-to-month tenants, this can be especially dangerous, as the level of rent they pay is subject to change at any time due to the lack of a firm lease.
Erin Willoughby, director of the Clayton Housing Legal Resource Center Atlanta is another voice of the people struggling to be heard. “It’s not solving the underlying problem, which is a lack of affordable housing. People are on the hook for rents they cannot afford to pay. Simply finding something cheaper is not an option because there is not anything cheaper. People have to be housed somewhere.” The idea of living within your means is a great one; when your means stay consistent.
For many low-income workers, this simply isn’t possible. Many find themselves bouncing from job to job for a variety of reasons. This means there is little to no ability to build up a safety net, so they have something to fall back on if they lose their job. There is no moving to get a better job or to enjoy the lower cost of living in another city or state. Instead, they find themselves moving from place to place, with each eviction making it that much harder to find a new place to live.