Connecticut needs a bailout for the rental housing market
Without one we will face a new public health and humanitarian crisis
When the current eviction moratorium ends on July 1, Connecticut will face a surge in evictions, with dire economic and public health consequences. Connecticut can prevent this from happening by following the lead of states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania in using some of the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds for rental assistance. This will help both landlords and tenants, stabilize the rental market, and protect our communities.
The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on the fragile condition of low-wage workers in Connecticut who have been hardest hit by the economic shutdown. In the last two months, more people applied for unemployment compensation in Connecticut than in the last four years combined. Black and Latinx communities are bearing the brunt of the economic and health impacts of coronavirus, and are more likely to be renters.
Connecticut currently has a moratorium on evictions until July 1. But the public health crisis and the related economic crisis will not magically end on July 1. The federal programs that gave these workers temporary respite —the one-time stimulus payment and the enhanced unemployment benefits— will end, absent action by a vastly divided federal government. Unless the state creates a program to help tenants who are not able to pay rent, there will be an eviction crisis when the eviction moratorium is lifted, with cascading consequences for families, communities, landlords, and the economy.
Unless the state creates a program to help tenants who are not able to pay rent, there will be an eviction crisis when the eviction moratorium is lifted, with cascading consequences for families, communities, landlords, and the economy.
We have the capacity to prevent this crisis. Connecticut is receiving almost $1.4 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funds from the federal CARES Act. Other states, recognizing the urgency, have used some of that money to create rental assistance programs needed to prevent evictions, provide a cash flow for landlords, and avoid the devastation that could come to neighborhoods if the rental market were to collapse. Connecticut must do the same. The state spent millions to prevent the spread of the virus among people experiencing homelessness by placing them in hotels and permanent housing in the last couple of months. A new flood of families without a place to live will be a giant step backwards in our fight to control the pandemic.
Connecticut had an affordable housing crisis before coronavirus hit. With stagnant wages and rising rents, Connecticut renters were —and continue to be— seriously rent-burdened: over half our state’s renters pay more than 30% of their income for rent and more than one quarter pay more than 50%. Connecticut renters need to make $24.72 an hour to afford fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment, but minimum wage is $11 an hour. Any drop in income risks putting them in a hole.
Living paycheck to paycheck with minimal savings—as most Americans do—there is no margin for the broken-down car, the unexpected medical bill, the hours cut at the job. Landlords do not hesitate to evict; for example, between March 13, when the governor declared the public health emergency, and April 10, when he issued the eviction moratorium, landlords filed 800 new eviction cases.
Eviction is costly for everyone. Landlords have attorney’s fees and court costs. Tenants have moving costs, lost security deposits, application fees, and lost hours at work (or lost jobs) as they struggle to find new housing. Eviction is not just a symptom of poverty; it causes poverty. An eviction record impedes a renter’s ability to secure safe, decent housing, without which children are put at risk for lead poisoning, asthma, and other health issues.
Eviction has serious societal costs, too. Despite federal protections for homeless students, evictions result in academic loss to children whose educations are disrupted by missing or switching schools. Evictions negatively affect mental health, wellness, and decision-making. Homelessness strains city services and can lead to increased use of emergency rooms, particularly dangerous in a pandemic.
Connecticut needs a “bailout” that benefits both renters and landlords: relief that prevents evictions and stabilizes our communities. We cannot allow a new homelessness crisis to follow the current public health crisis.
Shelley White is Litigation Director, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Inc
Nilda R. Havrilla is Litigation and Advocacy Director, Connecticut Legal Services, Inc.
Giovanna Shay is Litigation Director, Greater Hartford Legal Aid.
All three provide free legal services to low-income people in Connecticut.
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