US Economy

An Eviction Crisis Is Unfolding in the US and May Hit 40 Million

Lawyers contacted by CNBC said they were inundated with eviction cases

Timothy Young and his family
Courtesy of Timothy Young

On Monday, July 27, two days after the eviction moratorium in Maryland expired, Timothy Young, his wife, Tammy, and their two children, Hermione, 8, and Negan, 2, scrambled to move out of their duplex. They’d received their notice to vacate. 

Young estimates that he’s applied to more than 400 jobs over the last few months, and nothing has panned out. He was months behind on his rent. 

Hermione was scared they’d lose their new kitten without a home. And Tammy wanted to find a way to hold onto the kids’ favorite toys, like Hermione’s doll house and Negan’s giant T-Rex. Young asked a neighbor to watch their son, daughter and kitten for the day, while he and Tammy, and their dog, tried to find a shelter that would take them in. 

Eventually, they found one that would let Tammy and their two children spend the night. Young, the kitten and dog spent the night in a storage lot.

"Our biggest concern is that we don’t want to lose our children," Young said. "Will they take them because we have nowhere to go?"

Even as unemployment levels remain at historic highs and cases of the virus show no sign of abating, statewide eviction moratoriums in more than 30 states have now lifted and protections for renters in the CARES Act are gone. 

In Republicans’ plan for a second stimulus package, unveiled earlier this week, there’s no mention of extending the pause on evictions in properties backed by a federal mortgage or where tenants receive government assistance. Worsening the situation is the fact that by July 31 some 25 million Americans will stop receiving the weekly $600 federal unemployment checksIn the end, up to 40 million Americans may lose their homes, four times the amount seen during the Great Recession. 

Facing eviction CNBC

"The United States is facing the most severe housing crisis in history," said Emily Benfer, an eviction expert and a visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University. "Countless lives will be negatively altered solely because they couldn’t shoulder the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic and economic recession."

Benfer has said the U.S. needs "a nationwide uniform moratorium on eviction," coupled with cash assistance to renters so that landlords aren’t driven into financial ruin. 

Country-wide moratoriums on evictions have been issued in Germany and Spain for three to six months at a time, Benfer pointed out. "Instead of providing meaningful emergency rental assistance to prevent a housing crisis, Congress has offered the equivalent of a hand towel in a hurricane," she said. 

Lawyers CNBC contacted said they were inundated with eviction cases as these moratoriums lift.

"Our eviction intake is up three times what it was last year," said Alexis Erkert, a lawyer with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, adding that she’s currently representing around 120 families at risk of losing their homes. "Now that the CARES Act is expired, we’re bracing ourselves for an ever larger spike."

An eviction is already a traumatic event. It’s even worse amid a public health crisis, Erkert said. 

"You’re doubling up with family, going to a shelter or living on the street," she said. "That’s only going to further spread the virus."

Across the U.S., more than 40% of renter households are at risk of eviction, according to a new analysis by global advisory firm Stout Risius Ross

People of color are especially vulnerable. While half of White tenants say they’re highly confident they can continue to pay their rent, just 26% of African-American tenants could say the same. 

On July 25, Alaina Lattin was served an eviction notice at her home in Conroe, Texas.

"It was a very loud banging," Lattin, 32, said. "They just kept screaming, ‘Leasing office! Leasing office!'"

Now the single mother is worried that she and her four children will become homeless. 

Lattin was laid off from her position at a car dealership in May and hasn’t been able to find work since. She estimates that she’s applied to more than 100 jobs. "Nobody is hiring," she said. "Everything is shut down right now."

She hasn’t been able to break the news to her children, but expects she’ll have to soon if nothing else happens. 

"It’s chaos," she added. "Nothing is improving on the outside, but the leasing office is still moving forward."

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