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It 'Looks Very Scary For Renters' As Federal Eviction Relief Expiration Nears

Millions of Americans are facing the threat of eviction as a federal moratorium that has protected renters during the pandemic is set to expire Friday.

That eviction moratorium, coupled with unemployment assistance established in the CARES Act, has helped some renters stay in their homes.

As the deadline has loomed, renters and local officials from Washington, D.C., to Houston have struggled to find a solution.

Matt Desmond of Princeton University's Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions across the country, told NPR's Morning Edition that the pandemic "looks very scary for renters." If protections expire, the nation could face mass evictions and a rise in homelessness.

"In some cities in the Rust Belt, you are seeing evictions go up," he said. "Milwaukee and Cleveland, evictions have been hovering around 40% higher than they usually are at this time in a typical year. That's pretty scary."

Here are excerpts from the Morning Edition conversation:

How many evictions did we see nationally before the pandemic?

Every year in America, 3.7 million evictions are filed. That's about seven evictions filed every minute. And that number far exceeds the number of foreclosure starts at the height of the foreclosure crisis.

So before the pandemic, the majority of renters below the poverty line were already spending half of their income on housing costs or more. And 1 in 4 of those families were spending over 70% of their income just on rent and utilities. When you're spending 70, 80% of your income on rent and the lights, you don't need to have a big emergency wash over your life to get evicted. Something very small can do it.

What happens when the CARES Act expires?

No one really knows. Some landlords are going to negotiate with their tenants, but others are going to reach for that eviction notice.

Across the United States, one in 20 renters faces an eviction every year. For African American renters, that statistic is one in 11. We've created, in low-income communities of color, the semipermanent renter class.

Most white American families own their home, and they are buffered from the exigencies of rent increases [and] from the eviction crisis. But most Black and Latino families rent their homes, and so they're disproportionately exposed to these problems.

What might we see in terms of evictions?

That's going to mean that our homeless shelter system is flooded and stressed. Shelter systems are really important, but they're horrible for social distancing. You're sleeping next to people that you don't know; you're eating next to people that you don't know. In a moment where the home is the safest [place] to stave off this virus, exposing people to the lack of a home is going to spread more disease and pain. An eviction comes with this mark or blemish: a court record. And that can prevent you from moving into safe housing in a good neighborhood. ...

This is utterly preventable. And if we don't prevent it, this is just going to cause more poverty and ... disease.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

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Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.