US economy

The Coming Eviction Crisis: ‘It’s Hard to Pay the Bills on Nothing’

The dislocations could be worse than last time. Even before the pandemic, the nation was facing a housing crisis. Years of residential underbuilding have driven up prices, particularly in the areas where jobs are concentrated. Tens of millions of lower-income families already were struggling to afford a place to live. Millions already were evicted each year. And many more Americans have lost jobs this time around.

In a policy memo published Friday, a group of housing policy experts and affordable housing advocates said, “The United States may be facing the most severe housing crisis in its history.”

Some state and local governments are trying to help.

In 2008, Aisha Wahab was a 19-year-old college student living in her parents’ longtime home in Fremont, Calif. She watched as they lost their clothing store in nearby Oakland, and then their home. She watched as their marriage fell apart. By 2012, Ms. Wahab and her father were sharing an apartment in Hayward, a nearby city with cheaper housing.

Ms. Wahab said her family has never recovered. “I can 100 percent attest to the fact that my family is nowhere near where they were prior to 2008,” she said. Now, at 32, she is the youngest member of the Hayward City Council, and she is doing what she can to prevent another crisis. Hayward has prohibited evictions until the end of September. Alameda County, which includes Hayward, has prohibited evictions at least until the end of the year. Tenants will then have a year to catch up on any missed rental payments. Homeowners, however, must negotiate separately with their lenders. And it’s not clear where renters or homeowners will find the money without federal aid.

Local officials are simply postponing the day of reckoning. Sooner or later, in Hayward and across the country, the eviction moratoriums will end.

“What happens on the next day?” Ms. Wahab said.

The Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond has argued compellingly that eviction is not just a result of poverty — it is also a cause of poverty. The downward trajectory, well documented in research on the last crisis, is the same for homeowners and renters. People who lose their homes also lose their communities. Studies show they generally move to less expensive neighborhoods, and their children end up enrolling in lower-quality schools. Eviction strains the ability to keep a job. People who are evicted suffer from higher rates of mental and physical health problems. If they are married, they are more likely to get divorced. They are more likely to end up homeless.

This new crisis builds on the last one. During the last recession, Renee Matthew lost her job at a New Orleans law firm, and then she lost her home to foreclosure. She didn’t find a new job until 2015, working as a parking lot supervisor at the city’s cruise terminal.


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