On the Razor's Edge: Uncertainty and Fear Come With End of Eviction Moratorium
"I’ve had a lot of tough times in my life when it comes to paying rent and bills and stuff and the mental toll it takes is hard to even measure."
Last Friday, Congress allowed the federal eviction moratorium to expire, a move that could lead to millions of Americans being kicked out of their homes and left to fend for themselves on the streets.
Federal inaction has generated intense criticism both from critics on the left and from elected members of the Democratic Party like Missouri Rep. Cori Bush. Bush's protest on the front steps of the U.S. Capitol has helped spark a nationwide sit-in-style demonstration movement around the country.
But while these actions are helpful for raising awareness around the issue, protest doesn’t change the fact that many Americans are now facing eviction and wondering how they'll pick up the pieces.
"I think the thing that makes this so bad, beyond the fact that people are going to be kicked out of their homes, is the uncertainty that comes with it," Bryan Quimby, co-host of the podcast Street Fight, told me. "I’ve had a lot of tough times in my life when it comes to paying rent and bills and stuff and the mental toll it takes is hard to even measure."
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“I'll be getting evicted for sure”
Millions of Americans are facing homelessness with the expiration of the moratorium, and that’s expected to get worse as we head into the fall.
The Associated Press reported Monday on the scope of the problem:
More than 15 million people live in households that owe as much as $20 billion to their landlords, according to the Aspen Institute. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
One of those people, Will, who lives in Houston, told me that a perfect storm of unemployment, tight finances, and predatory landlord behavior has left him with few options and expecting to be evicted this week.
"I've been unemployed since I was laid off due to COVID in April of last year and have been battling my landlord ever since," Will said.
For Will, who said his landlord has already used the threat of eviction to extort thousands of dollars from him, housing is just one concern he's facing. A Tier 2/3 IT Support Specialist, Will was in month four of a six month contract-to-hire position with a company servicing hotel chains when the pandemic hit—but the lockdowns ended that position and he's been unable to find work since.
"Now I am still jobless and living in Texas where Greg Abbott's evil ass cut my federal unemployment benefits months early and now if I don't get emergency rental assistance again in the next 7 days, I'll be getting evicted for sure," Will told me. "I'm not even sure the eviction moratorium will help us down here as I knew of people getting evicted regardless of it being in place, as my landlord threatened to do to me in February of this year."
"I was counting on the federal rent assistance I got paired with the unemployment benefits till Aug/Sep to stack up some money and move to a cheaper place but that piece of shit Greg Abbott decided I don’t deserve it," Will added. "I truly wish the worst on that bastard."
“Terrified of what is coming”
As unfortunate and infuriating as Will's story is, it's not that far out of the norm.
For Meredith, who lives in Massachusetts, the pandemic began a process of stress and hardship that’s left them in a tightening financial situation. They qualified for unemployment, but issues with identity verification company ID.me stopped them from accessing benefits. Massachusetts's Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program eventually stepped in, they told me, but that temporary help was just that—temporary.
"I am now self-employed and a small business owner," Meredith said. "I have my rent paid for two months but am terrified of what is coming."
"My landlord tried to evict me this year after agreeing to work with me," they added. "I received three notices to quit."
“You have to hustle to survive”
Quimby told me that although he's at a point in his life now where things aren't so dire, it wasn't always that way—a perspective which makes watching governments actively choosing to go back to leaving people on the edge utterly incomprehensible.
"I’m relatively comfortable now and I still have panic attacks and anxiety about the uncertainty around not having enough to pay my rent," Quimby said. "I can’t even imagine what it is like to live on this razor's edge and not knowing what the future is because the government keeps putting band aids on the problem and pushing it off into the future until it becomes untenable for anyone."
The uncertainty and chaos generated by the Covid economic crash and subsequent governmental decisions to strip benefits from people as soon as possible presents another concern: that for some, this level of desperation is all new and they're having to learn on the fly how to make it work. Quimby described this group of people as those "who have never had to navigate this world which has a steep learning curve."
"If you’ve had a job since you moved out and you were always able to cover your bills and this thing hits and you are blindsided by it and now have to live in this world that a lot of the poorest people in the country are used to living in, you probably don’t know the delicate ways that you have to hustle to survive," Quimby said.
“I'm completely in the dark”
In Redmond, Washington, K Johnson fears that she could lose housing in the very near future. She told me that while much of the focus is on those who are already in dire circumstances and falling behind, there's a coming crisis of those who will be soon.
"I was laid off from a job right at the beginning of COVID," Johnson told me. "Just as the extra $600 for UI kicked in, I got another job and no longer needed unemployment."
She was laid off again six months later, and since then only the $300 in pandemic unemployment insurance has kept her head above water on her rent. The uncertainty is difficult to deal with, she told me.
"I am on 'the list' for rent help with my county, but they are doing it by lottery and I am not currently behind on my rent," Johnson said. "So I have no way of knowing if/or/when I might get help or not, no way to update my application when I do become behind soon, and no method of additional forms of assistance should that happen. I'm completely in the dark."
Johnson is applying for jobs, but she can't find work. And with the pandemic assistance set to expire soon, she's going to be at risk for eviction.
"Even though we already have an enormous crisis in people already behind on rent, we will also see a burgeoning 'second' crisis of those who were scraping by okay and are kicked off into debt immediately once the few programs left expire," Johnson said.
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