Struggling renters find help where they can as US evictions moratorium ends

Chandra Dobbs was stunned when the police officer showed up on her doorstep with a fat packet of eviction papers. She thought she had more time.

“I didn’t think I was going to be evicted because I applied for rental assistance money,” Dobbs said a few days later. “But they didn’t want to wait the four to six weeks. So now we’re homeless – me, my 16-year-old son, my daughter and my grandchild, a toddler.”

Her confusion is a common theme across America at a time when the federal government has ended renter protections while doling out billions of dollars in rental assistance.

Instead of the feared surge in evictions, many landlords are holding off, waiting for the federal money to come through.

But while a few jurisdictions bar landlords from evicting renters who have applied for the money, most do not.

Court records show the eviction judgment against Dobbs was for $3,837, which included $2,700 in rent plus late fees and court and legal costs. Encore Management LLC, which filed for the eviction, did not respond to a request for comment about its side of the case.

Dobbs, who was laid off from her job as an exotic dancer during the pandemic, said her family was staying temporarily with friends while working with a non-profit to find a new home and collect money for a rent deposit.

After a slow start, the pace to distribute the first $25bn installment of $46.5bn in rental assistance is picking up.

Treasury department officials said the program had served 420,000 households in August – up from 340,000 in July – and distributed $7.7bn since January.

Treasury officials said the strong signs of progress came from New Jersey, New York and South Carolina, which at first struggled to get their programs going. New Jersey, for example, sent out no money in the first quarter but now has distributed 78% of its first-installment money and doubled the number of households served in August compared with July.

Spending in Florida increased from $60.9m in July to $141.4m in August, while South Carolina increased its spending from $10.6m to $25.3m. New York saw a jump from $8.5m to $307m.

“These numbers are still early, uncertain and there is likely additional pain and hardship not showing up in these reports,” said Gene Sperling, a senior adviser to Joe Biden who is charged with overseeing implementation of the president’s $1.9tn coronavirus rescue package.

“But what is out so far is certainly better than anyone’s previous best-case scenario for the month after the moratorium,” he added.

Sperling credited an increase in eviction diversion programs as a central reason the tidal wave predictions didn’t come through, adding that it was important to keep speeding relief money to landlords.

On Wednesday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a new rule barring landlords from evicting tenants in Hud-subsidized public housing without providing them 30 days’ notice and information about available federal emergency rental assistance.

Some tenants have benefited from remaining eviction moratoriums, including in California, which ended last month; New York’s, which runs through the end of the year; and Boston’s, which is ongoing.

Others have taken advantage of newly created programs that aimed at keeping eviction cases out of the courts and keeping renters in their homes.

Some court systems have also put in place policies staying evictions if a tenant has applied for rental assistance, while at least three states and 10 cities have approved measures providing tenants with free legal counsel in eviction proceedings.

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