Moratoriums on evictions make it illegal for landlords in Connecticut and New York to evict tenants who haven’t paid their rent. They’re to protect renters — often low-income — from losing their homes, after many have already lost their jobs because of the economic shutdown.
All that will change soon. The ban on evictions in Connecticut is set to expire next week. New York’s will expire August 20. The pandemic unemployment payments will dry up next month. And a tidal wave of evictions is predicted for later this summer.
A broad coalition of advocates wants Governor Ned Lamont to extend the eviction moratorium and establish a significant rent relief program. The advocates for renters’ rights fear eviction proceedings will flood the courts this fall.
“There's going to be a lot of evictions because a lot of people are in financial trouble,” Ian Wilder, executive director of Long Island Housing Services, said. He thinks the court system might be overwhelmed.
And, there’s the domino effect. Landlords rely on rental income to pay property taxes and mortgages. If they don’t pay, they could face foreclosure.
“How do you deal with the property owners absorbing the loss of all that rent in terms of them paying their mortgages and the effect that has on the economy?” Wilder said.
Some advocates for renters’ rights want the moratorium on evictions to be extended. But Wilder said extensions might only delay the inevitable. He said the state or federal government might have to step in with assistance — to renters, landlords or both.
“Otherwise, it's going to go from pandemic to pandemonium.”
Some fair housing advocates say pandemonium is avoidable: cancel rent payments, create a rental assistance program and prevent an impending wave of homelessness that would only exacerbate the health crisis.
Constanza Segovia is a community activist with the cancel rent movement in Connecticut. She thinks communities of color will be hit the hardest — the same communities that have already been disproportionately impacted by the health effects of the pandemic.
“Our cities, where Blacks and other people of color mostly live, are the most impacted, are where most of the renters in the state live,” Segovia said.
She wants the state to “cancel rent” by setting up a robust rental assistance program where the landlord applies for the rent relief.
“Undocumented people in Connecticut can access the relief because they would not be the ones applying for it, so that would not imply them having to disclose their immigration status to the landlord,” Segovia said.
Nearly 150 advocacy groups, religious organizations and local governments agree with her. They sent a petition to Connecticut governor Ned Lamont to extend the eviction moratorium until the health crisis is over, and to allocate more of the federal money the state received from the CARES Act to help renters and stabilize landlords.
Amy Eppler-Epstein, an attorney with the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, says Connecticut should take a cue from how nearby states earmarked their federal money for rental assistance. Eppler-Epstein says Connecticut is considering a plan to use $12.5 million to help renters — out of $1.4 billion received from the feds. She says that’s not enough.
“In comparison, Vermont has put aside $42 million for rental assistance,” Eppler-Epstein said. “Montana, $50 million. New Jersey, $100 million. Pennsylvania, $150 million. Illinois, $396 million. So we're just really behind other states in what we're setting aside to meet this need.”
She said the safety nets available to many renters are not available to everyone.
“Undocumented workers are not even eligible for either the stimulus check or the unemployment, but they're renters and they’re tenants and they’re taxpayers and they're hardworking people,” Eppler-Epstein said. “And they have landlords who have bills to pay.”
She points out that other industries — like the airlines — have received pandemic bailouts, and renters deserve help, too.
“Let’s save our cities,” she said. “Let's save our rental markets. Let's save our housing markets. Let's save our tenants and the landlords who rely on that rent, and the cities who rely on the property taxes.”
And she says the state should act now to prevent a new pandemic of evictions and homelessness.