By Pilar Marrero/Ethnic Media Services
SINCE the federal moratorium on evictions ended in late August, court eviction filings by landlords have increased across the country, particularly in cities with the lowest local and state protections. So far, there is no sign of the “tsunami” of evictions predicted a few months ago.
The federal moratorium on evictions was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in early September 2020 to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus. Many states and localities followed with tenant protections. The U.S. saw an estimated 1.55 million fewer eviction filings than normal.
New numbers released by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University show that filings increased 20.4% across the country in the three months since the moratorium ended compared to the three previous months – still well below pre-pandemic levels. The number of filings varies wildly depending on where you are in the nation, what local protections are in place, and how much economic and legal assistance is available to those at risk of losing their housing.
Between August 27 and November 26, for example, 11,799 eviction cases were filed in Las Vegas, Nev., at 126% of the historical average. Eviction filings exceeded 75% of pre-pandemic levels in 11 other cities, including Columbus, Tampa, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee.
Cities with more protections like New York, Albuquerque, Austin, Pittsburg and Richmond have held steady in terms of filings or fallen slightly. New York is only about 15% of historical levels, a testament to its strong protections.
“In some of the places we are looking at, there are currently limitations on whether you can file to evict when a tenant has already applied for rental assistance,” said Emily Lemmerman, a research specialist at the Eviction Lab. “That’s definitely something that could be affecting the number of filings.”
Lemmerman added that direct financial support like emergency rental assistance, income support and the Federal Child Tax Credit might be helping as well. But she made it clear that these numbers may not accurately reflect everything happening on the ground.
“We are missing (data on) informal evictions: walk outs, utility shut offs, intimidation and tenants moving out due to landlord harassment or lack of knowledge of their rights or support availability,” she said.
In fact, housing organizers on the ground say they are seeing an increase in illegal evictions compared to when the moratorium was in effect.
“Our allies are seeing increases in tenant harassment and illegal evictions, which continued during the moratorium but seem to be increasing now,” said Francisco Dueñas, executive director of Housing Now! A California statewide housing justice advocacy coalition.
In some cities, like Dallas, Tx., advocates report that black single mothers are particularly affected by increasing evictions. Areas with more protections but a high number of undocumented immigrants, like Los Angeles, could be seeing more incidences of harassment of tenants and illegal evictions, they added.
Aaron MacDonald, a consumer rights project attorney with Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, said that local advocates worked all throughout the pandemic to put in place strong state protections.
But state protections are not automatic. The tenant needs to file something called the ‘tenant answer’ to dispute an eviction. “If they don’t, they will be evicted without a hearing,” MacDonald said.
In Dallas, Tx., where filings are up by 45.7%, a new Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center has now hired two full time attorneys to represent tenants in eviction cases. The large majority are African Americans and of those, the majority are single mothers, according to attorney Mark Melton. Latinos do not ask for help as much, but he plans to hire another attorney with bilingual abilities to help that community.
“On the one hand, the Texas Supreme Court has issued an emergency order that says if a tenant has applied for rental assistance and the landlord agrees to participate in the program, the case is delayed 60 days,” Melton said in an interview. “But unlike other similar local protections, if the landlord says they won’t participate, then it is game over for the tenant.”
There are few hard data points on race and ethnicity of the latest eviction filings, but the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the latest U.S. Census Household Pulse data show that 28 percent of Black renters, 18 percent of Latino renters, and 20 percent of Asian renters report they are not caught up on rent, compared to 12 percent of white renters. The rate was 18 percent for American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial adults taken together.
The December relief package and the American Rescue Plan, which included over 46 billion in emergency rental assistance, are still making their way to people behind on rent, which leaves many millions of Americans vulnerable to eviction over the next few weeks and months.