The federal moratorium on evictions, originally set to expire on June 30, was extended by merely another month to the end of July. The tsunami of evictions that has loomed on the horizon throughout the COVID-19 pandemic could soon arrive at our doorsteps if President Biden fails to extend the moratorium even further.
Recent studies underscore the dire housing crisis which could soon become a reality: over four million people say that they fear eviction or foreclosure and nearly 5.7 million households nationwide owe roughly $20 billion in rental debt. Even though $45 billion was allocated for emergency rental assistance over the past two stimulus bills, these funds have largely not reached tenants. As Diane Yental, president of the Low Income Housing Coalition explained, “If the CDC eviction moratorium expires or is overturned before those funds are expended, millions of renters would be at immediate risk of losing their homes. The result would be a historic wave of evictions, with tremendous, harmful consequences to individuals, communities, and our nation’s public health.”
The impending housing crisis could be compounded by the lapse of other measures which the political establishment has been forced to deliver in order to shield working people from utter devastation during this pandemic. Currently, both the suspension of federal student loan payments and the $300/month federal unemployment top-up are set to expire in September. Renters could suddenly be on the hook for not only $3,400 (the average amount owed by households with rental debt as of March), renters could be forced to resume payments of $393/month (the average payment for those with student loan debt) as they struggle to find work that pays a living wage.
Evictions have persisted throughout the moratorium issued last September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The moratorium unfortunately contains copious loopholes for corporate landlords to exploit. For instance, it only applies to evictions related to “nonpayment of rent” — landlords are more than happy to invent bogus excuses to evict their tenants! And as the failure to disperse the tens of billions in rental assistance highlights, tenants have to jump through enormous hoops to even hope to qualify.
Despite its limits, the eviction moratorium has protected millions of families and prevented thousands of additional deaths during the pandemic. An extension would provide invaluable time to distribute the tens of billions still remaining in rental assistance as we fight for affordable housing for all. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a $5.2 billion plan to pay off all past due rent of low-income renters in the state accrued during the pandemic using federal funds. But a slow roll out of renters’ aid in the state so far shows that it’ll take more than a few weeks or months to reach renters. There is nothing preventing President Biden from extending the moratorium — he could either maintain this vital lifeline for renters or he could side with corporate landlords to pull the plug.
For-Profit Housing: A Failed System
Under the chaotic capitalist system, this housing crisis exists simultaneously with a frenzied housing market. Home prices are at an all-time high. The average time homes spend on the market is at an all-time low. Some of this represents middle-class and millennial buyers who are finally able to afford a home due to the savings they were able to set aside as COVID lockdowns depressed opportunities to spend. However, as the Wall Street Journal illustrates in an article titled, “If You Sell a House These Days, the Buyer Might Be A Pension Fund,” an estimated one in five houses sold is bought by someone who never moves in, with corporations, investment firms, and pension funds buying up entire blocks.
The homeownership gap between white and Black Americans, already nearly 30% before the pandemic, is expanding further and with it the racial wealth gap. The American Civil Liberties Union noted that, “Due to decades of inequalities in our housing system, communities of color and low-income women feel the impacts of eviction the most — Black women in particular.” While 28% of renters started the year with rental debt, that figure was a staggering 53% for Black households. Approximately 80% of all those facing eviction are people of color, particularly Black and Latino people.
Fight for Housing for All
In addition to controlling the White House and Congress, Democrats control most major U.S. cities. They could use their power to pass sweeping protections for renters, working people, and struggling small businesses. For instance, they could make the banks and the corporate landlords pay for the cancellation of rental debt for both renters and struggling small businesses.
As experience shows, though, we can’t rely on the Democratic Party establishment to stand up to powerful landlord and real-estate developer lobbies. We need to take matters into our own hands, uniting renters, working-class homeowners, and small businesses to fight for eviction defense, an expansion of the moratorium, and the cancellation of rental debt.
We also need far-reaching solutions to a crisis that was spiralling out of control even before the pandemic. Working people and progressive elected officials across the country can look to the example of Socialist Alternative Councilmember Kshama Sawant in Seattle, who has used her seat to win a series of landmark renters’ rights in the face of wealthy developers’ rapacious pursuit of profits. This includes vital protections against evictions such as “right to counsel” legislation providing free legal counsel for all tenants facing evictions, and a school-year eviction ban for the households of students and educators.
In Minneapolis and Seattle, Socialist Alternative is currently playing a leading role in coalitions to win rent control, a crucial policy to stop the skyrocketing rents. Last summer, Socialist Alternative and Councilmember Sawant played a leading role in the victorious struggle to Tax Amazon and Seattle’s biggest corporations to build affordable housing. We have no time to waste in building struggles in cities across the country for an extension of the eviction moratorium, rent control, and for a massive public investment in affordable housing funded by taxes on top corporations. Housing is a human right — just not according to the logic of the for-profit capitalist system and its political representatives.