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'I'm Really Going To Be Homeless With My Dog': Tenants Face Eviction Moratorium's End

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This past Saturday night, the last night of July, marked the end of the nationwide moratorium on evictions. That moratorium was put in place by the CDC last September. It's been extended several times. Democrats want the White House to do more. The White House says it's done all it can.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today, the president called on states and cities to extend or implement eviction bans for the next two months. Millions of Americans are behind on their rent right now, like Amy Cousino.

KELLY: She is 49 years old. She's from Detroit, Mich. But she moved south three years ago to pursue her dream of becoming a chef in New Orleans. She was fired at the beginning of the pandemic when businesses were shutting down.

SHAPIRO: The moratorium helped her stave off eviction, but now that it's expired, she could be kicked out next month. She applied for rental assistance months ago but is still waiting. Her landlord told her, time has run out.

AMY COUSINO: I have no money to move anywhere, even if I had somewhere to move. And I tried. I did actually get a job about four weeks ago. And the place that I got hired, the day after my birthday, they closed down my department because of a delta outbreak.

KELLY: Between the highly transmissible delta variant and a surge in violent crime in New Orleans, Cousino says she doesn't know what to do.

COUSINO: I hope that other people can get out or that they have friends or family to go to. I just don't. I'm really going to be homeless with my dog. I don't know where I'm going to go to try to sleep. I've been trying to look at places when I'm walking to the store and back. Is there an alley that I can go in? I don't know. I really don't know what I'm going to do. I think I'm kind of in shock, not processing it, because if I do, I'm just going to fall apart, and I can't do that.

SHAPIRO: She says she's terrified and feels like her life has been upended yet again.

COUSINO: I'm not a statistic. I'm a real person that came here to live my dream, and now it's gone. And not only that - my regular life itself is gone.

KELLY: To help us understand what is ahead for Amy Cousino and others, we spoke with Christine Marra, director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. I asked her, give us a snapshot of the situation in Virginia.

CHRISTINE MARRA: There are still a lot of renters who lack confidence that they'll be able to pay next month's rent. They're behind on their rent. They are worried that they're going to be evicted. And in fact, according to data that I received the beginning of last week, there were 1,000 eviction cases pending in court statewide. But when we take into account that there was a nationwide moratorium on evictions until Saturday night...

KELLY: Yeah.

MARRA: ...The fact that there were still 1,000 cases pending here in Virginia tells you that the worst maybe isn't over. And we still need to be making sure that renters are protected.

KELLY: It sounds like if cases are pending, if some people are already in the hole for their rent, they're worried about a knock on the door.

MARRA: Absolutely, absolutely. Now, there is some good news here in Virginia, and that is that Virginia still has just a little under half of the nearly half a billion dollars it received from the stimulus package in emergency rental assistance back in the beginning of the year.

KELLY: Yeah. You're talking about federal money that was sent to states to try to help people from being evicted.

MARRA: That's right. That's right.

KELLY: Help us understand this because nationally - I was looking at the numbers. Nationally, there's more than $40 billion in this federal rental assistance that hasn't been dispersed. Is part of the problem, too, renters not knowing how to apply for this, not knowing how to navigate and what rights they have?

MARRA: That is a huge problem, and they need help actually applying. Many of these tenants don't have access to the internet. Many of these tenants are not English speakers.

KELLY: OK, so give us a tiny bit of just news you can use for people who may be listening who may be waiting for that knock at the door. What's the first place they should go, understanding that may vary a little bit state to state?

MARRA: Right. So the first thing that they need to do is find out who's giving that money out. Find out if there are rental assistance navigators in your state, and get in touch with them. You can apply, at least in Virginia, for this funding even if you haven't fallen behind on your rent yet.

KELLY: As someone who's worked on this challenge for many years, I wonder, how long reasonably do you believe eviction protections should last? And I'm asking - you know, no one, of course, would wish for any American to become homeless. And I get that a lot of people lost their jobs and have had desperate choices to make during the pandemic. But as we watch the economy pick up, as we watch labor numbers showing there is actually work in most parts of the country, why are there so many people who still face being evicted?

MARRA: There is a lag for some folks in terms of finding employment and getting employment. We have a childcare affordability crisis in this country so that my clients who are at the lower end of the income scale can't necessarily afford to take a minimum wage job if they have children who need childcare. And so there are so many complicated factors. I think it would be beyond shameful to allow people to get evicted when there is money available to pay their rent and help the landlord - enable the landlord to pay their mortgage.

KELLY: Thank you very much.

MARRA: Thank you so much for this opportunity. I've enjoyed it.

KELLY: That is Christine Marra with the Virginia Poverty Law Center. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.