Get rental relief to tenants — and landlords — to avert the worst of an eviction crisis
Without rent relief, small neighborhood landlords who rely on rental income to pay mortgages and property taxes eventually risk foreclosure. That’s a lose-lose for both tenants and landlords.
A public health crisis is not the time for millions of people to be put out of their homes simply because they’ve lost their jobs and incomes during a pandemic.
President Joe Biden’s plan to impose another federal eviction moratorium is surely due, in part, to intense pressure from left-leaning Democrats since the Supreme Court ruled that last fall’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium was unconstitutional. Those lawmakers warned that a “tsunami” of evictions, impacting mostly low-income renters of color, would be the inevitable result if Biden’s administration didn’t take action to stop it.
Whatever the pressure, a moratorium is on solid ground from a public health perspective. Since the pandemic began, policies aimed at limiting evictions cut COVID-19 infections by 3.8% and deaths by 11%, an analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research found.
Those are numbers to keep in mind with a pandemic surging anew because of the more contagious Delta variant. Every reasonable step to contain the spread of the variant is called for, and Biden’s plan will impose a ban on evictions until Oct. 3 in counties that have been hardest hit by Delta.
Here in Illinois, the impact of the Biden administration’s new moratorium is not yet clear. The statewide eviction moratorium is set to expire on Aug. 31, but that will only mean landlords can once again file court cases to begin the eviction process, which typically takes five or six months.
Get relief to renters, landlord
The next step, as Biden pointed out Monday, is for state and local governments to get rental relief into the pockets of struggling tenants and landlords.
In June, $1.5 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance grants were awarded to 290,000 households, the Treasury Department reported — more than in all the previous months since the federal government began the program.
It’s a start, but there’s far more still to be done. “The money is there,” Biden said.
But it has to get out the door to do any good.
Congress allocated $46 billion in federal relief money. If that money isn’t doled out quickly enough, a pending eviction crisis threatens to spiral into a foreclosure crisis as well.
We’re thinking, in this case, of foreclosures on small-scale landlords who rely on rental income to pay mortgages, property taxes and maintenance that keeps their buildings in good condition for renters. In Chicago, 70% of rental stock is owned by smaller landlords who own fewer than 20 units, according to the Neighborhood Building Owners Association.
“These are not big corporations,” an NBOA spokesman told us. “These are people with day jobs, renting out two-flats, three-flats, courtyard buildings.”
Nationwide, according to the National Association of Realtors, roughly half of all housing providers are “mom and pop operations” that could be jeopardized by the disappearance of tenant payments.
No one, tenant or landlord, wins if a small neighborhood landlord is put out of business because emergency rent relief got held up in too much red tape and bureaucracy.
Some states have yet to begin taking applications for the relief grants. Illinois, to its credit, is not among them.
So far, the state has paid out more than $185 million to over 22,000 renters and landlords, the state reports. In June, Illinois was the second-highest provider of rental assistance nationwide, according to Treasury Department data.
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In Chicago, the city’s Department of Housing has allocated $10 million in federal funds to 1,200 applicants.
Even so, Illinois still has over 73,000 applications yet to be processed. Chicago has a backlog of over 25,000.
Unless rent relief gets to every tenant and landlord who needs it, an eviction moratorium is just a temporary fix.
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