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Federal Moratorium On Evictions Expires On Friday. What's Next?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The pandemic safety net is only catching so many people. And today, two giant holes have been ripped in that net.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

An extra $600 a week of federal unemployment money evaporates today for almost everyone who's been receiving it.

KELLY: And a federal moratorium on evictions that has protected nearly 12 million people also expires today, which means a wave of evictions may be on the way.

SHAPIRO: Barbara lives in a fourplex in New Orleans with her 7-month-old baby. We are using her first name only because she fears retaliation for speaking out about her situation.

BARBARA: We rent here. And we're currently facing eviction. And I don't really have any family. You know, everybody's struggling now just to try and survive. And it's hard out there. Nobody's working. People are desperate, you know? I don't have a backup plan.

KELLY: Barbara was working under the table managing a bar when the pandemic hit. And when she lost her job, it was unclear whether she'd be eligible for jobless benefits. She hasn't received any so far. And so she can't pay the rent.

SHAPIRO: About 30% of rental units have been covered by the federal eviction moratorium. If a landlord has a mortgage backed by the federal government or receives any sort of federal rental assistance, those landlords have been barred from evicting their tenants under the CARES Act until today. And Barbara is out of options. Her landlord has given her notice.

BARBARA: My daughter and I will be living in a shelter more than likely. It's pretty desperate. You know, it's hard to try and form a plan when you don't have any options, if you don't have a support system. It's very easy to fall between the cracks. I just want to do what's best for my daughter, give her a decent life, you know, keep a roof over her head, food in her stomach, to give her a good life. I don't know how I'm going to do that if we lose our house.

KELLY: Well, millions of renters were not covered by the federal eviction moratorium, but a patchwork of state and local rules banning evictions has helped many. We wanted to bring in NPR's Chris Arnold to explain the overall situation and what Congress is doing right now to help renters. Hey there, Chris.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So you have been looking at this patchwork, as I called it, of protections. How is it working or not working? Who is actually protected from eviction right now?

ARNOLD: Well, patchwork is a really good word because a lot depends on where you live. If you look at Boston and Pittsburgh, for example, there's still very strong protections to stop evictions. And a lot of other places, though, you know, there's local moratoriums that have been ending, expiring. And I talked with somebody who's tracking eviction filings in a bunch of cities. Peter Hepburn is a researcher with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. And he says, look; back in March, the pandemic struck. Lots of things shut down. And so did most eviction filings.

PETER HEPBURN: But since then, we've seen large rebounds in a number of cities. So in Houston, we saw 600 eviction filings in April. That doubled to 1,200 filings in May and doubled again to over 2,500 new filings in June. In Milwaukee, Wis., eviction filings surpassed historical averages for the month of June. And that's despite the fact that the federal moratorium covers probably a third of renter households.

ARNOLD: And that federal moratorium - like you just said, that stops today.

KELLY: Stops today. Has it worked? Has it been successful? How has it helped people?

ARNOLD: You know, it's interesting. I mean, frankly, I was a little skeptical about it at first because a lot of tenants have no idea if their property is covered or not. I mean, is the property backed by a government-guaranteed loan? Who knows? And a lot of people don't have a lawyer to help them. But Peter Hepburn who we just heard from with the Eviction Lab says no, you know, actually, this has been working. And landlords for the most part have been complying.

HEPBURN: So we're very worried about an ending. The end of that moratorium could signal the sort of - the cliff. This could lead to a large spike in new eviction filings.

ARNOLD: And, you know, when people get evicted, it's hard emotionally, but it's also hard to recover financially. This can lead to homelessness. It's harder to get another apartment because when they check with your last landlord, you got evicted. And on top of that, like you said, we've got this double whammy. The moratorium's expiring, along with that extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits.

KELLY: It's a huge double whammy in the same day because that money has been helping people pay the rent and stay in their homes.

ARNOLD: Yeah. I mean, it's been huge. Rent is most people's biggest bill. A lot of states don't pay very much in state-level unemployment benefits. And so $600 a week is a huge amount of money for somebody without a job. And we've got right now upwards of 25 million Americans on unemployment getting that benefit. And all of those people are losing that today or, technically, this weekend. A lot of people are really worried about this.

KELLY: Let's turn this around and look at it from the other end - from the landlord's point of view. If you have a bunch of tenants who aren't going to be able to pay their rent going forward for whatever reason, that's a huge problem for the landlords, many of whom are small business owners. They're trying to make a living, too.

ARNOLD: Yeah, of course. Landlords big and small are very worried. I talked to Paula Cino with the National Multifamily Housing Council. She represents the big apartment building owners.

PAULA CINO: The worst-case scenario is that you have this wave of renters who are just unable to make those housing payments. That directly leads to property owners that can't make their payroll. They can't satisfy their own financial obligations on those properties. That risks a system failure, when you have a wave of properties, then, that are going into default.

ARNOLD: She's talking about this cascade of, you know, if apartment buildings start going bust, and that sets off a chain of events that hurts the financial system and the economy. And we saw a historic catastrophe not long ago with foreclosures and a lot of people losing their homes. Housing advocates say we could see more people displaced here if Congress doesn't extend some kind of help.

KELLY: OK. Well, speaking of Congress, what is their role here? They - we know they're trying to come up with a fifth coronavirus relief bill. Do we know whether extending that $600 in unemployment might be a part of that? Do we know whether additional help for renters might be in there?

ARNOLD: That is on the table and being talked about. Democrats want to extend the $600. Republicans say it's too much money. It creates a disincentive to return to work. They're also split on extending the moratorium. Democrats also want a separate rental assistance fund for renters and landlords. But, you know, a lot of stuff is changing and moving in their negotiations. And lawmakers will get back at it next week.

KELLY: All right. That is NPR's Chris Arnold reporting. Thank you, Chris.

ARNOLD: Absolutely. You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.