Saturday, July 11, 2020

America's Housing Problem

More than 20 million people — roughly 20% of the 110 million Americans living in rented homes — could face eviction and homelessness.  The Census Bureau recently found that 25.9% of households reported that they missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment. Without federal assistance, millions of people will be plunged into turmoil.

Though it’s impossible to predict exactly how many people will be affected, “the number is just insanely massive,” said Vincent Reina, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies housing policy.

The federal government and many state and local governments have issued partial emergency eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, though these vary in degrees of protection and are set to expire in the coming weeks. More than 20 states, including hard-hit Texas and South Carolina, have already allowed eviction proceedings to resume and only about a dozen states will have any eviction protections by the end of the summer unless further action is taken. The federal moratorium, which was implemented under the CARES Act, is set to expire on July 25, after which renters will get 30 days notice of eviction proceedings.

These moratoriums paused evictions but provided no rent relief, meaning that renters unable to pay during the pandemic will be on the hook for months of back rent once they expire. The economic crisis has left millions unable to pay rent, a fact that will not change when crucial relief programs expire. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the unemployment rate is not expected to fall below its pre-pandemic level until at least the end of 2030.

The eviction crisis poses an unprecedented economic threat because of housing instability issues that predate the coronavirus.

“There’s a housing supply problem of just not enough units being built, and so that compounds over time,” said Reina, who co-authored an upcoming report on the eviction cliff for The Justice Collaborative with Kathryn Howell, the head of the RVA Eviction Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University. “It’s driving up rents at all ends of the spectrum so you have that reality of the fact that the supply response to the demand for housing in many markets has been insufficient.” 

“The private market’s not supplying the units enough and there’s a lot of factors that drive that, not the least of which is nimbyism and restrictive land-use practices and owner processes that drive up costs and kind of delay production time. There is a lack of federal support, particularly for the development of low-income housing. There’s a lack of federal safety nets.” The government has offered vouchers and other programs to help low-income renters but these programs have been “largely oversubscribed.” there are four eligible households for every one subsidy.

Not only have affordable housing programs been “largely insufficient,” the US population is rapidly aging.

“The number of people who are elderly and disabled and poor is only going up, and these are households who aren’t going to make more money,” Reina said. “These are households who are largely past the wage-earning ages, or at least the age where their wage is going to increase at a meaningful level to reduce their housing cost burdens, and so there’s a large compounding reality that essentially built over time without an adequate market or government response to it.”

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