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Millions of renters face holiday evictions — and long-term debt

Kimberly Adams Dec 9, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Renters and housing advocates attend a protest to cancel rent and avoid evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, in Los Angeles, California, on Aug. 21, 2020. Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Millions of renters face holiday evictions — and long-term debt

Kimberly Adams Dec 9, 2020
Renters and housing advocates attend a protest to cancel rent and avoid evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, in Los Angeles, California, on Aug. 21, 2020. Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images
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As bad as this pandemic is, the economic consequences are set to get a lot worse, particularly when it comes to housing.

Local eviction moratoriums are winding down all over the country, and the federal one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ends on Dec. 31. According to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey they’ve been doing during the pandemic, about 33% of people in the U.S. are at risk of eviction or foreclosure. And rental debt is piling up.

Paying rent used to be no big deal for 65-year-old Graciela Wade in Chicago. She’s retired and on a fixed income, but was getting help with bills from her granddaughter and her granddaughter’s then-girlfriend.

Then the pandemic hit.

“But with my girls losing their jobs, and me not being able to keep up with everything, just makes it worse,” she said.

Wade hasn’t paid rent since July and is now $3,500 behind and at risk of eviction. Just like about 14 million other households, said Emily Benfer, who leads the American Bar Association’s task force on COVID-19-related evictions.

“The mere fact of filing actually plummets credit scores, and it precludes people from seeking a mortgage in the future or a car title or even seeking employment,” Benfer said.

Plus even after someone is evicted, the debt stays with them. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia estimates more than a million households owe over $5,000 in rent.

“We will see the impacts of debt owed by renters across this country for years to come,” said Deborah Thrope, deputy director at the National Housing Law Project.

“It’s going to absolutely slow the economic recovery, and we know that there are millions of people at risk of eviction prior to the pandemic, and that number has only grown,” Thrope said.

If Congress does pass more COVID legislation, she said, it needs to address the estimated tens of billions of dollars in past-due rent.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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