What happens when temporary eviction moratoria expire, and people suddenly face months of overdue rent?
Flickr user Thomas Hawk (CC)
Illinois faces an unprecedented eviction cliff if we do not take bold action to keep tenants impacted by loss of income housed.
Almost all businesses have shut down as much of the state has slowed to a stop, with layoffs and unemployment arriving right after. For the over 580,000 renter households in Chicago, their monthly rent is still due. Evictions are temporarily limited by government, but what happens when these protections expire, and renters are left owing with several months of unpaid rent – many with still no income to draw from? This is the reality of too many of our neighbors.
Temporary protections, preventative action still needed
By one estimate, over 605,000 renter households in Illinois have suffered a COVID-related loss of income and may be struggling to make ends meet.
Fortunately, the immediate potential for mass displacement and eviction has been largely delayed. Various eviction moratoria have been placed at the local, state, and federal levels to protect renters and keep them stably housed by halting the filing and enforcements of eviction orders.
While important, the eviction moratoria do not, however, solve for what happens once they’re lifted and renters are met with several months of unpaid rent with no income to pay them back. By one estimate, over 605,000 renter households in Illinois have suffered a COVID-related loss of income and may be struggling to make ends meet. This means that, without proactive action, over 605,000 households may face evictions once the federal and state eviction moratoria expire.
Will we see a spike in COVID-19 cases as evicted Illinoisans seek emergency shelter or double up with family or close friends?
The dangers of mass displacement are clear: what will happen to families forced out of their homes? Will we see a spike in COVID-19 cases as evicted Illinoisans seek emergency shelter or double up with family or close friends? And renters are just the beginning of the domino effect: If tenants cannot make rent, owners cannot make mortgage payments or maintain buildings; owners are then also at risk for foreclosure and rental apartments can fall into further into disrepair.
Avoiding the eviction cliff
MPC continues to advance research and advocacy efforts to support an equitable response and recovery. In the near term, this means stopping our communities from going over an eviction cliff. So, what can be done?
Emergency Rental Assistance. The biggest need is for direct cash assistance to help tenants pay their rents and prevent a surge in homelessness. We are joining advocates across the state and the nation to ask for $100 billion to be included in future federal relief packages. Regardless of federal support, though, every level of government should direct available resources to provide relief to households in need. By shoring up tenants unable to pay rent, this assistance will stabilize building owners, neighborhoods, and the entire housing market. Any assistance must prioritize residents most impacted by the current crisis and those who were left out of initial federal relief efforts, including undocumented workers, ITIN filers, and mixed-status households.
Extend and enforce eviction moratoria beyond the current state of emergency. In the absence of cash assistance, many low- and moderate-income renters are likely to be met with several months of unpaid rent that could lead to an eviction cliff once the moratorium is lifted. To provide residents some recovery time, ongoing federal and local eviction moratoria should last longer than the current stay-at-home order. Of course, these moratoria are only as strong as they are adequately enforced. Despite current limits, tenants report still receiving eviction notices and complaints. Partners are also reporting a rise in illegal lockouts occurring.
Offer Rent Payment Options. Waiving late fees on rent payments and offering flexible, feasible payment plans—including a grace period that gives renters time to catch up on payments—can ensure tenants are not met with unmanageable debts. Plans can include deferred, flexible, or discounted payments.
Expanded Tenant Protections. Local governments should take action to stem mass evictions. One option? Guaranteeing tenants a right to legal counsel in eviction court. Once the federal and state eviction moratoria are lifted, many tenants may be facing eviction hearings in court – the vast majority of whom will not have any representation – with the odds stacked against them. Providing a legal right to counsel in eviction court will help tenants navigate hearings fairly with a better understanding of their rights under the law. Another critical measure is to institute Just Cause eviction protections. By prohibiting evictions without good cause, Illinois can become a leader in helping keep tenants housed.
Support for Small Landlords and Housing Providers. Of course, if tenants are unable to make rent payments, small owners and landlords will also struggle with making mortgage payments and keeping up with other operating expenses, like maintenance, repairs, or property taxes. Action is also needed to stabilize housing providers, especially those providing affordable rental homes, through relief such as mortgage forbearance, assistance, or forgiveness.
Longer term, this moment calls upon us all to radically reimagine how we can emerge from this pandemic stronger than before. That means emerging as a society that prioritizes housing stability as a key determinant of our individual and collective health.
We at MPC are exploring several priorities on this front, including:
- Policies to regulate rental increases and promote tenant stability. The State of Illinois currently preempts localities from implementing any rent stabilization measures. Rents were growing faster than incomes even prior to the pandemic, so MPC began reviewing rent stabilization policies (sometimes also known as rent control) to develop a position. Visit here to read our analysis of existing research and an explainer of how rent stabilization operates.
- Greater cash assistance for low-income households, such as through an expanded, modernized, and inclusive state Earned Income Tax Credit.
- Increased resources for the production of new affordable homes, such as by creating a new state tax credit for affordable housing and expanding the federal allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
- Proactively acquiring land to support community-owned affordable housing and prevent speculative land grabs, such as by supporting community land trusts and limited equity housing cooperatives models and strengthening local land bank authorities.
Ultimately, there is no single silver bullet to advancing housing as a human right and solving all our existing challenges. We need comprehensive policies that protect tenants and homeowners, produce new affordable homes, and preserve existing housing that is affordable with or without subsidy. As we at MPC build out our #BuildBackBetter agenda, we actively welcome any and all feedback. Please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.