The looming eviction crisis


Among the many issues we are confronting during the coronavirus pandemic, public policy regarding housing affordability and stability ranks near the top. Affordable housing is an essential component of our societal infrastructure, and has a direct impact on our most vulnerable.

With courts in many states set to begin hearing eviction cases again, and unemployment still high due to the pandemic, this fall could be a precarious time for many Americans. The last $600 unemployment checks were sent in July. And even though the Federal Emergency Management Agency will begin to send out $300 checks in many states, there is uncertainty about uniform implementation. In the meantime, for those at risk, day-to-day expenses continue, credit card bills loom, saved funds are being depleted and there is no quick answer in sight.

Those who work at social service organizations with fixed-income clients, including Holocaust survivors, are concerned. Administrators warn that their clients, and especially those on disability, are already stretching their dollars to cover expenses, and those who have lost their jobs are having trouble finding new ones.

While we focus on those who struggle with the very real fear and anxiety of potential homelessness, we are also concerned about landlords, who are not receiving rent payments even as they continue to face unforgiving mortgage obligations, real estate taxes and mounting operational and maintenance expenses. We need a solution that is forgiving for renters in need and responsive to the financial demands made of landlords.

The eviction moratorium that President Donald Trump declared last week is welcome. But no one sees it as a long-term fix. Not only will it not help renters begin paying their bills again, it also shifts the entire financial burden of that adjustment to landlords, with no offsetting benefit.

Only the federal government can address the issues comprehensively. In recent testimony before Congress, suggestions were made for an interim approach that would provide direct financial assistance to renters in need, targeted financial assistance for landlords and resources to assist local government in managing activity upon expiration of eviction moratoriums. While such an approach may address parts of the problem, it will do little to respond to rising affordable housing demand as income numbers continue to decline.

During the next seven weeks leading up to our presidential elections, we call on both campaigns, and the deep creative resources available to them, to develop comprehensive approaches toward resolution of our nation’s affordable housing puzzle — beginning with a shorter-term COVID solution, and a longer-term national one. The displacement of the pandemic has helped focus more of us on the immediacy of our country’s affordable housing dilemma. We need to support those in dire financial need, and provide meaningful economic relief to those whom we are asking to provide housing for them.

We are beset by an affordable housing crisis. Let’s think about it as we pray for a year of health, happiness and good fortune.

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