Tanzina Vega: I'm Tanzina Vega, and this is The Takeaway. Evictions and foreclosures are looming large across the United States, as state and federal protections for renters and homeowners that were issued at the height of the coronavirus pandemic are quickly expiring.
In late March, as the unemployment rate skyrocketed and COVID-19 peaked in parts of the country, the government banned evictions for federally backed housing, and also provided financial relief to millions of people through the CARES Act, both of which will expire later this summer. The federal moratorium doesn't cover most renters. That responsibility falls on the states and there's been a patchwork of temporary policies put in place to protect renters so far.
In California, for example, the eviction moratorium has been extended through July 28th, but in other states like New York, the eviction moratorium has already expired. The housing rights groups estimate that 50,000 to 60,000 eviction cases could be filed in New York City's housing courts in the coming days and like COVID-19 itself, this housing insecurity is expected to disproportionately impact Black and Latino communities across the country.
For more on what's happening with housing in the US, we turn to Alanna McCargo, Vice President of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute, and Jenny Schuetz, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Jenny says we're likely to see a wave of evictions in the coming weeks and months.
Jenny Schuetz: The future is potentially pretty bad, but it depends a lot on what governments choose to do over the next say two months. Housing insecurity was actually a widespread problem even before the pandemic. More than 10 million households were spending over half of their income on rent before this occurred. That means that people really had no financial cushion, couldn't accumulate any savings and we're living pretty much on the edge paycheck to paycheck even before this hit.
There are a lot of people who really have no cushion to weather the storm, and many of them have been relying very heavily on the stimulus checks, or on the expanded unemployment insurance benefits which are set to run out in addition to the eviction moratoria. There are two things that matter there. Both the legal protections that keep tenants in their home, but also very crucially, the financial assistance that the federal government has been providing.
Tanzina: Alanna, tell me what you're seeing right now when it comes to the potential for Americans to be evicted from their homes in the coming weeks and months.
Alanna McCargo: There are some protections that were put in place, federally and locally, that have really helped us shield from the waiver or at least delay the potential for eviction, through moratoria and some of the support that came through the CARES Act. We look at it as a cliff, and that once those supports go away, if the jobs haven't come back or if the incomes haven't been restored, we are really facing a serious significant problem in the rental markets.
Then I have to just add that it's also an issue on the homeownership side of things as well as people are facing and missing their mortgage payments at a higher rate right now.
Tanzina: We're not just talking about renters, we're also talking about homeowners whose mortgages are also going to become due if they were issued some break during the peak of the pandemic. Alanna, because of that we know that housing and racial segregation in this country are intertwined, I'm wondering if you can tell us what communities might most be affected by this cliff coming up, whether they're homeowners or renters. Are we looking largely at communities of color, women, certain geographic areas?
Alanna: The census has been doing a pretty large scale survey called the census pulse survey of households very, very specifically on housing, looking at some questions of stability. Were you able to pay your mortgage last month? Were you able to pay your rent last month? What do you think your prospects are for being able to pay it next month, and just getting a feel or a pulse from people about where or how stable they feel in their housing situation right now.
One of the things that we have in this data is the ability to look at this by race, so demographic characteristics as well as income. When you look at this along racial lines, just like when you look at the unemployment data, we are seeing significant amounts of unemployment in the Latino and Black communities that is directly aligning with what we're hearing in the pulse data that's telling us that these families, Black and Latino renters, are having more difficulty paying their rent.
Black and Latino homeowners are having more difficulty paying their mortgages. Then we haven't even yet touched on the fact that there's landlords and people built into a lot of these numbers and metrics that we're still looking to analyze and understand because as people are unable to pay their rents, that really causes problems for landlords as well who are trying to pay mortgages in some cases or just to sustain those properties.
There's a whole system of issues here that really need attention, and I think that the conversations and the calls for rent relief that really provide support and relief for not only tenants but also for landlords, I think are real and we really need to be taking a look at that and having some urgency around putting those in place before these moratoria and these other benefits expire.
Tanzina: Alanna, you laid out some very important points there. Jenny, I'll get back to you for a second because you both mentioned the CARES Act. Did the CARES Act cover all renters? Did it cover just some renters? Did it have any provisions in there for homeowners?
Jenny: The CARES Act house more protections for homeowners than for renters, and really a minority of renters are covered. One thing that the CARES Act did and then subsequent actions related to that, that were undertaken by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, was to say that borrowers who have a mortgage that's backed by the federal government through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac have up to a year to pay their mortgage.
That's actually quite a long period of time of forbearance not just for homeowners, but for landlords who have a federally backed mortgage. This was a pretty sweeping provision of protection for people who have a mortgage. Unfortunately, the federal government really has very limited tools to protect renters who live in unsubsidized private housing. Most renters in the US, including most low-income renters, don't live in subsidized housing and don't get subsidies from the federal government.
The way the US has decided to structure regulation of the rental market, most of that really resides in the States. States are the ones that set up these landlord-tenant protection laws and states also decide what local governments can do to add protections on top of that. We really see a long-standing imbalance where the federal government is very involved in the homeownership market, through regulating mortgages but plays a very limited role in the rental market, meaning that we just don't have tools available to provide blanket tenant protections to renters in a case like this.
Tanzina: Alanna mentioned protests for rent relief. I'm wondering, Jenny, to your point about the state's really having control over the rental market and those protections and we can't obviously go through all 50 states, but did many states actually issue protections for renters who were not say section eight renters or who didn't have federal government dollars helping them subsidize their rent? I believe New York State had some protection on rent but what was the landscape nationally there?
Jenny: It's really a patchwork. In particular, the larger states that have big renter populations, and that were early hit by the crisis, places like New York, California, Massachusetts, put in place some statewide protections for renters essentially saying that landlords couldn't file for eviction beyond some date, or that filings would be stopped.
I should say that there's been a backdoor protection too in that, in most places, evictions go through the court system and a lot of state and local governments shut down courts just because they were shutting down all of the activity and not carrying out in-person court cases. There have been a patchwork of these intentional tenant protections at the state and local level, some unintentional protections, with courts being closed, and then the federal financial support and that's really been very important.
What we've seen in the data so far is that most tenants are still able to make at least a partial payment on their rent. That's essentially because the federal government has been sending out checks to people. When the checks expire, when the unemployment insurance benefits go away, that's going to put people in a very precarious situations.
Tanzina: Alanna homeownership itself has been one of the few means of wealth generation in this country. The majority of wealth in the United States is concentrated among white families and there's a history to that that involves housing policy, but here we're talking about mortgages and homeowners who might once again be hit with a wave of financial insecurity as we saw more than a decade ago. Are we expecting for Black and brown homeowners to begin to lose some of that wealth if these upcoming protections are taken away?
Alanna: The Black and brown communities that are homeowners today are the most vulnerable of homeowners and this particular pandemic for a variety of reasons. One is one that you mentioned Tanzina, which the last crisis of housing and lost equity and foreclosures that we saw from homeowners, which disproportionately impacted communities of color.
The Black community, and the Hispanic community, were still recovering from that. They hadn't fully recovered. Then this has been just another devastating blow that is a very different crisis and it's hitting in a very different way, with this massive unemployment that we're seeing where jobs are being lost and in particular markets. I think the key point here is that a lot of the policy that's happening around homeowner protection has to be focused on keeping people in their homes.
We cannot repeat what we saw in 2008 with the number of foreclosures that we saw hitting these families. Keeping people in their homes needs to be the number one objective of all policies and the initial CARES Act, which doesn't cover all homeowners with mortgages, it covers those that have really federally backed mortgages. That's about 69% of all mortgages. There's a large portion that isn't covered.
Also, the provisions that were put in place were essentially forbearance plans for up to a year and forbearance has to be repaid. When you look at families that were financially strapped prior to the COVID crisis, you layer on top of that the unemployment, loss of income that this is bringing, and then you put payments on hold for a number of months that are then going to be due at the end of that period of forbearance, when that money is due what is going to happen then?
That's the part we're really focused on right now, is what happens to those people in forbearance? How do they do those repayment plans? What programs are going to be in place to support them and help them get on a payment plan that is sustainable for them so that they don't face going into default and ultimately face foreclosure as the option or having to walk away from their home for some reason?
Tanzina: We're talking about homeownership, which anybody who's attempted to buy a home in this country knows it's not an easy thing to do. You have to have the right amount of money, the right downpayment, the right credit score. Let's think about those folks who are still renting right now. If we're talking about people who have homeownership ambitions, and they happen to still be renters, and they're facing eviction, what are the long-term effects of eviction on ultimately?
Does that ruin your credit score? Does it have lingering effects longer term than just the moment of being evicted?
Alanna: The future homeowners, in this country right now are renters and their struggle is real. This eviction situation can definitely have damaging effects long term on credit and then the ability to access credit in the future, especially if there are filings or judgments associated with that. Then it's just more than the housing payments. This is affecting all kinds of things in people's lives and their ability to pay their credit card bills, their car loans, and other debts that they may have.
If you're unable to pay those bills, and you start to get behind, and you start to see, a lot of delinquencies, across the credit report, there going to be some implications for credit scores and this is definitely going to have long-term implications that may really delay the ability for people to buy homes.
Tanzina: Jenny, I'd love to hear your thoughts on that because there are landlords who have played by the rules, and then there are landlords who may be applying pressure to folks that they expect probably won't be able to pay their rent or their mortgage. Do we know anything about landlords who might be harassing or intimidating tenants to get them out in lieu of a more formal eviction process?
Jenny: This is an area where we wish that we had better systematic data on it. We rely a lot on tenant advocates to tell us what's going on on the ground. Landlords are in a very different financial position depending on who they serve. One concern that Alanna brought up earlier is that in fact, a lot of landlords, particularly the small mom-and-pop non-professional landlords don't have particularly thin margins.
We've got a lot of landlords who own maybe a two or three-family home that they rent out, and they really rely on the rent payments in order to pay the mortgage and property taxes and all the other expenses. There's some landlords who really just can't give a lot without essentially running into financial difficulties themselves. We do know that some landlords have been voluntarily negotiating payment plans with their tenants.
For many good faith landlords, kicking somebody out in the midst of a recession, doesn't mean that it's going to be easy to find another tenant who can come in and pay the rent. A lot of landlords are trying to negotiate, what can we give you in terms of a discount to keep the unit occupied and some cash flow and keep people housed. We know that some landlords are not acting in good faith, that even where there is an eviction moratorium in place, that they may be putting pressure on renters.
They can't file and put this through the court system, but they can keep make things unpleasant for renters and try to get them to leave voluntarily. We always worry about the most vulnerable households. People who don't speak English, people who are undocumented, people who just don't have social and political power are more vulnerable to being taken advantage of and those are also the households that are being hit hardest by the financial crisis from all sides.
The labor market impacts, the housing instability, the wealth impact, all of these are focused really on the most vulnerable households and frankly, the public sector just isn't providing enough support and protection.
Tanzina: Alanna, this is not happening in a vacuum. All of these connections that we're making right now are really bringing more difficult conversations to the fore in this country, including racial injustice, we're seeing a continual uprising across the country. I'm wondering-- And rent and housing policy seems to have become part of this-- A bigger part of the conversation. Are you encouraged by that message resonating with protesters right now?
Alanna: What we're seeing, and it's not just the pandemic, obviously, all these issues of racial justice, and policing, these are community issues and neighborhood issues and everybody can understand them and everybody is seeing them and paying attention, because we've all been isolated in our homes and we're watching a lot more and paying more attention.
I think that it's promising and I do think that this is the time and it really has started a conversation that I've been hearing personally. I also think that lawmakers and others are grappling with around just the systemic barriers that have really kept certain communities behind and how do we start to really unlock all of that and how do we start to make policy that would really help to get at the most vulnerable populations in a very direct way?
To unpack all of this, we just know that this conversation and the tone right now in the country has been just about justice, and racism and all the discriminatory things that happen and how ingrained that is, in our various systems and housing is at the epicenter of all this. Where we live, and communities and where people are has a lot to do with everything that we're dealing with. I think it's a really important connection.
The other thing I would just say is the pandemic itself has been a different disaster, a different crisis and that the first things that we heard when the pandemic started was stay at home, shelter-in-place. We got to distance ourselves, so you need a place to be. That, to me put housing front and center as an important, really prescription for this pandemic. It's almost like housing is healthcare.
We've been saying that a little bit and hearing that, but this has truly been staying at home and so you've got to have a safe place to live, that's a healthy environment that you can spend time in and, and then be able to endure and get through this pandemic.
I think it's a really important connection that is all bringing all these things to a head. I think it's a really important and promising time for us to really make some bold changes that can really move the dial on the housing policy front that have a real implication for communities at large.
Tanzina: Jenny, I'll wrap with you here, because we've got about a minute left in the segment but I'm wondering, is there a potential federal intervention right now? Are we expecting the federal government to re-up the CARES Act, to help with some of these protections? Are there any states that are considering perhaps extending some of these protections or is this pretty much it?
Jenny: There are a lot of ideas floating around out there. We don't know yet what's going to make it through. The house has already passed another big stimulus bill, the HEROES Act, which would include I believe, $100 billion in rental assistance, so getting cash directly to households who need it so they can keep paying their rent. The Senate hasn't taken that up yet and we don't know whether they will.
States and cities are absolutely having conversations about whether they should extend the current eviction moratorium, and just in general, how they're going to cope with this when the courts reopen, and evictions can go forward. If there are additional short-term emergency rental assistance or protections, providing more resources for tenants to go through mediation.
We're trying to come up with things on the on a broad scale, but really absent a coherent federal policy for this, not just in the short run. We're certainly focused on people who have lost their jobs, lost hours, can't pay the rent right now, but a lot of this comes back to the fact that we had housing insecurity before the crisis, that 20% of Americans couldn't pay the rent or the mortgage even before this hit.
At some point, the federal government has to provide appropriate resources so that everybody can afford a decent quality place to live all the time, not just in an emergency and at some point, we also have to grapple with the fact that local governments have made it hard to build high-quality rental housing. We have this persistent shortage and high cost of housing that you can't really deal with in the midst of a crisis.
Tanzina: Jenny Schuetz is a Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Jenny, thanks so much.
Jenny: Thank you.
Tanzina: Alanna McCargo is the Vice President of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Alanna, thank you.
Alanna: Thank you very much Tanzina.
Matt: This is Matt in Oklahoma. After three months of approved forbearance through our mortgage company, we're going to start paying again but obviously don't have the funds to pay for the three months that we've missed as a whole, so now we are curious and nervous and slightly confused about the options going forward.
Brigid: This is Brigid Shea and I'm a County Commissioner. We are using $10 million of the Federal Coronavirus Relief money to help people pay their rent and mortgage because we know that there will be a housing crisis as a result of the pandemic. We're making $10 million available starting at the end of June for people to apply for up to three months assistance with paying their rents or their mortgages.
The last thing we want to do is have an entire new population of homeless people because they can't pay their rent, because they've lost their jobs or have been harmed from the pandemic.
Karen: This is Karen Schitz from Covina, California. I am definitely on furlough for my job. First time in my life that I haven't been working as an adult, and so it's been a little weird.
I've been so grateful for the CARES Act that was passed, the additional funding on unemployment. It has made the difference for me as to whether or not I can contribute to the household in a meaningful way and it has certainly kept my family from having to deal with any evictions.
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