An Eviction Crisis We Can Stop

Now is the time to push for innovative solutions and reimagine the eviction system’s role in perpetuating poverty.

The nation is facing an unprecedented eviction crisis. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and at a time where we are being told to stay home as much as possible, Congress has failed to provide comprehensive long-term protections to ensure everyone has a place to call home.

Yet the housing crisis existed long before the pandemic. While rents have skyrocketedwages have remained stagnant, and nearly half of all renters are rent-burdened—that is, spending more than 30% of their income on rent—and a quarter are paying more than 50% of their income towards rent. What’s worse, only about a quarter of those who are eligible for long-term housing assistance actually receive it. As a result, families are too often one unexpected expense away from eviction court.

Families of color are disproportionately rent-burdened and face eviction. People of color are twice as likely to be renters, and 80% of renters facing eviction are Black or Latino/a/xBlack renters are twice as likely to face eviction than white renters, and Black women are the most at risk of eviction. According to the Eviction Lab, evictions are most common for failure to pay less than one month’s rent—often less than $600. 

The collateral consequences of eviction are stark—evictions cause homelessnessjob loss, increase health disparities, and disrupt a child’s education causing irreparable harm. Having an eviction record makes it nearly impossible to rent safe and decent housing in the future. Indeed, eviction is not only a consequence of poverty; evictions cause poverty.  

The eviction crisis is only magnified by the economic instability brought on by the pandemic – as the CARES Act unemployment protections expired, 44% of Black tenants and 41% of Latino/a/x tenants reported little to no confidence in the ability to pay rent. The Trump Administration has all but ensured that no additional funding—whether it’s rent relief or income supports that enable families to pay their rent—will come from the federal government until after the election.  

Since the start of the pandemic, the Shriver Center has advocated for an eviction moratorium and comprehensive protections for renters and homeowners. In September, the Centers for Disease Control finally imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium through the end of 2020. But eviction moratoriums merely delay evictions—they do not forgive rent owed or pay landlords for the unpaid rent. Without federal aid, it is estimated that up to 40 million people are at risk of eviction in the upcoming months.  

Federal aid is essential for stabilizing families and communities. We cannot repeat the fallout from the Great Recession, where small landlords lost their homes and rental units to foreclosure, only to be bought out by multinational corporate investors with no ties to or investment in the local community. The most comprehensive proposals include a nationwide moratorium on evictions and $100 billion in emergency rental assistance. Combined with enhanced unemployment assistance, stimulus checks, and other safety net measures, these proposals would stabilize households nationwide and prevent the impending eviction cliff.  

Now is the time to push for innovative solutions and reimagine the eviction system’s role in perpetuating poverty. We need to stop credit screening companies from using eviction records to deny families housing in the future. We also need to think creatively about utilizing rental assistance to assist as many families as possible.  

In collaboration with a broad coalition of advocates, we are advocating in Illinois for the sealing of eviction records so they cannot be used to deny housing in the future. We are also advocating for eviction to not be the available remedy when tenants are making partial payments. Our bill would: 

  • Prohibit landlords from filing evictions if they accept partial rent payments from their tenants by temporarily eliminating the need for landlords and tenants to enter into written agreements to prevent an eviction case.  
  • Expand tenants’ ability to seal prior eviction records if doing so is in the interests of justice, the parties agree to seal the court file, the tenant did not violate the lease, or there was no judgment entered against the tenant.  
  • Prohibit tenant screening companies from disseminating a sealed eviction court record.  
  • Seal eviction cases filed during the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery period (defined as March 9, 2020, through September 2022).  

Housing saves lives. It’s time to put an end to the eviction crisis and to guarantee that no family faces loss of their home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the Author

Emily Coffey
Emily Coffey
Emily Coffey
Staff Attorney, Housing Justice, Goldberg Kohn Foundation/Fred Cohen Fellow

312.724.8411

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Shelter is not only a basic human need, it is also critical to people’s ability to pursue and attain economic stability.

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