By the end of this summer, as many as one of every five renters in the U.S. may be evicted from their homes. According to research from the Colorado-based COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, upward of 22 million renter households of the 110 million renters in the U.S. are at risk of eviction. As state governments reopen their economies in the midst of the novel coronavirus, the stay-at-home emergency orders and eviction moratoria are beginning to fall away. Even the Federal order on the roughly 30-40 percent of properties with mortgages covered by such governmental enterprises and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will soon end, although new guidance from Fannie Mae is providing extra protections.
Local government efforts, such as their own eviction moratoria and the use of Federal dollars from the CARES Act to support emergency rental assistance will be insufficient to stem the tide. For cities, towns, and villages that have not taken more aggressive measures to direct federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Emergency Services Grant (ESG) dollars to rental assistance, the National League of Cities (NLC) and partners have issued a joint guidance document explaining provisions of the CARES Act and sharing success stories from cities that have taken action.
What to Do Immediately
For those communities that are already tracking the trend line on evictions, there are some short-term interventions that may help alleviate the crisis now.
- Update relevant city agency websites with consolidated information for renters and landlords. Consider adding a full webpage of eviction prevention and management resources to the City’s main website. Such information helps renters and landlords quickly access relevant rules, programs, and resources in the dynamic policy environment of COVID-19.
- Boost rental assistance either directly or through trusted intermediaries as in Boston or Seattle and King County, where this practice in already in place.
- Modify or update local eviction moratoria to extend deadlines, build in provisions to limit the imposition of late fees on past-due rent, and allow tenants to use their security deposit to pay off back-rent as in New York. In Chicago, landlords must show the court that they have engaged in good faith efforts to reach alternatives to evictions including mediation or payment plans.
- Pilot new court rules and services that can help tenants and landlords better protect their rights and navigate the eviction process – and to increase the likelihood that they can reach mutually beneficial settlements and prevent evictions. In Michigan, the courts are piloting new court rules, the presence of social services at hearings, and provision of assistance funds, to incentivize settlements that will stop evictions and judgments on tenants’ records.
- Direct governmental financial resources toward legal services for tenants facing eviction as in Providence, Rhode Island, or Richmond, Virginia.
- Use the credibility of elected office to convene landlords, building owners, property management companies, and judicial officers involved in eviction proceedings toward the goal of arranging work-outs over past due rent. In Franklin County (Columbus) Ohio, the administrative court judge arranged to hear in-person cases in a spacious convention center that accommodated social distancing guidelines with the goal of facilitating work-outs on rental payments between tenants and landlords. Open lines of communication between eviction court administrators and relevant city offices will ensure exchanges of up-to-date information and help spark new protocols to manage overdue rent.
More Resources for Better Policies
From mid-July through August, NLC, with support from Stanford’s Legal Design Lab, will deliver a series of follow-up blogs, webinars, and policy briefs focusing on how city leaders can educate landlords and support renters facing eviction. The resources will assist cities with responding to the current evictions cliff and lead cities to institutionalizing interventions to support landlords and renters over the long-term.
- Using data to be better prepared for housing instability and high-eviction risk households;
- Building an effective eviction diversion program;
- Adapting an institutionalized anti-eviction strategy beyond COVID-19; and
- Addressing the special needs of school-age youth facing eviction and education interruption.
Look for updates on these topics via NLC’s blog, CitiesSpeak.org, and for the webinar announcements via the NLC weekly newsletter.
About the Authors:
Olivia Rosenthal is a Fellow at Stanford’s Legal Design Lab.
Margaret Hagan is the Executive Director of Stanford Legal Design Lab.