Washington – With the federal moratorium on evictions and enhanced $600-a-week unemployment benefits both soon expiring, Connecticut housing advocates are expecting to see a flood of eviction notices.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for evictions,” said Jeff Gentes, an attorney with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center. “So we are expecting a slew of evictions in August, September and beyond…double or triple the usual rate.”
A massive stimulus bill approved by Congress in March, the CARES Act, temporarily prohibited evictions for non-payment of rent in “covered properties,” or properties with certain mortgage forbearances. Those “covered properties” were ones with federally backed loans or that were considered public housing.
But the ban on evictions only lasted 120 days, expiring Friday.
The Urban Institute estimates that 12.3 million households, or about 30% of all renters, have been protected by the federal moratorium. Once the moratorium lapses, landlords can give their delinquent tenants 30 days’ notice and then begin filing eviction paperwork in late August.
That’s when Connecticut’s moratorium on evictions expires, too. Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order that prevented landlords form filing an eviction notice, or “Notice to Quit” in court until August 22. But that executive order only shielded those who were current with their rent payments as of February 29, 2020.
There were already hundreds of eviction notices filed in Connecticut courts before that date. Action on those evictions was halted by the federal moratorium. But they can move forward now. Gentes said he “has already seen a trickle of evictions that are pre-pandemic related.”
While people have been protected from being turned out of their homes by the federal and state eviction moratoriums, tenants still owe money for the months covered by the moratorium and many may find it hard – if not impossible – to catch up.
The pandemic has resulted in record unemployment. About 30 million Americans are collecting jobless benefits. In Connecticut, about 300,000 jobless are filing weekly claims.
A disproportionate number of those residents are likely to be renters. A study by the Urban Institute found that about 45% of renters report their families have lost work or work-related income because of the pandemic and that nearly one-in-five renters did not pay their rent in June.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a news conference this week that there’s “a looming eviction crisis.”
“More than 40% of Black and Latino renters say they can’t make next month’s rent,” he said.
‘It will be ugly’
Many of those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic have been kept afloat by the $600 a week federal unemployment benefit that ends Friday.
Democrats are pressing for an extension of the benefits, but Republicans say the federal payments discourage unemployed people from finding work. A compromise may result in a continuation of federal help through the end of the year, but at a smaller amount. Senate Republicans are considering $200 to $400 a week.
“I think something will be done,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “If there is no extension of unemployment there will be a precipice, and it will be ugly.”
But even if Congress approves an extension of federal benefits in the next stimulus bill, there will be several weeks of lapsed benefits before the legislation is approved and the U.S. Labor Department develops regulations to implement the new program.
And on Thursday, the Connecticut Department of Labor indicated there may be a further delay as the state sets up a new federal unemployment benefit program.
“Connecticut will need to develop and implement whatever program is authorized — it may require a calculation change or developing a different eligibility threshold,” the department said in a statement.
Meanwhile, chances that Congress will directly address the problems of those struggling to pay rent are slim.
The House has approved legislation to create a $100 billion rental assistance fund which would help renters at the lowest income levels for up to two years, but the Senate has not taken up that legislation. A new coronavirus relief bill crafted by Senate Republicans and the White House does not include any help for renters.
Lamont has established $10 million rental assistance program for Connecticut residents impacted by COVID-19, administered through the Department of Housing. But only low-income households who have been denied unemployment insurance are eligible, and housing advocates say the amount of money in the program is not enough to cover the needs of everyone facing evictions in the state.