Giving Compass' Take:

• Mary K. Cunningham, Abby Boshart, and Ananya Hariharan highlight four policy approaches that can prevent widespread evictions in the wake of COVID-19. 

• Who in your community is most at risk for eviction? What role can you play in creating systemic change to prevent evictions? 

• Read about ways for foundations to advocate for policy change

American renters are racing in a car, headed toward the edge of a cliff, and the US government is standing by and watching. As we enter the fifth month of the COVID-19 crisis, unemployment levels are at 11 percent, more than 42 million workers (PDF) have filed for unemployment since mid-March, and experts say it may take a decade for the economy to fully recover.

COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the US, and ensuring Americans can socially distance relies on helping people stay in their homes. But new data suggest too many people are already facing eviction and millions more are at risk as eviction moratoria and supplemental unemployment insurance benefits are near an end.

Policymakers can take steps to keep renters from falling off the eviction cliff and prevent a surge in housing instability, which, for some can lead to homelessness. A Columbia University economist predicted homelessness could increase by as much as 45 percent this year. Supporting renters can also help address widening racial disparities in housing instability, as Black and Latinx Americans have been most effected by both the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19.

Four strategies can put prevent America’s renters from falling off the eviction cliff:

  1. Extend unemployment benefits for the next six months, at a minimum. The more than 40 million unemployed workers in the US may not be able to go back to work any time soon, and they will continue to struggle throughout this year and into 2021. FPUC has prevented catastrophe for thousands of families, but the expiration of this benefit could leave families facing the loss of their homes and financial stability.
  2. Fund enough rental assistance to meet the need. The need for rental assistance has only increased during the pandemic, with more renters than ever edging closer to eviction. Current rental assistance programs on both the federal and local level don’t have nearly enough funding to assist everyone in need. Fully funding assistance will keep all renters housed regardless of COVID-19 hardships and will support landlords. The Urban Institute estimates it would cost almost $16 billion per month to meet renters’ needs during this crisis.
  3. Pass a national eviction moratorium to ensure no one falls through the cracks. With housing courts opening back up, landlords are wasting no time filing to evict their tenants, even in states and cities with their own rental assistance programs or other COVID-19 eviction protections. A national moratorium on eviction is the only way to ensure families don’t lose their housing and to allow time for housing assistance to reach families in need.
  4. Fund legal assistance and pass right to counsel laws. Ideally, evictions are prevented before they are filed and hit the courts. But if a renter has to contest an eviction, data show that having legal assistance puts them on more equal footing with landlords who often show up to court with counsel. Some jurisdictions have passed right to counsel laws for tenants, which have helped stem a rise in evictions.

Read the full article about preventing evictions in the wake of COVID-19 by Mary K. Cunningham, Abby Boshart, and Ananya Hariharan at Urban Institute.