With Protections Expiring, An Eviction Crisis Could Have Long-Term Effects For Georgia Residents
"On Second Thought" host Virginia Prescott speaks with Dan Immergluck, Susan Reif, and Ellis Simani.
Experts predict that an eviction crisis is about to hit the nation. Since protections under the CARES act expired at the end of July, a first wave of evictions is expected to hit the courts at the end of August.
As just one of seven states that did not issue a statewide stay on evictions and where nearly 250,000 households sink more than half their income into rent, Georgia faces an especially precarious situation.
On Second Thought sat down with Dan Immergluck, professor at the Urban Studies Institute at Georgia State University; Ellis Simani, data reporter for ProPublica who has been covering evictions during the coronavirus pandemic; and Susan Reif, Director of the Eviction Prevention Project with Georgia Legal Services, to understand the predicament for landlords and tenants alike.
Learn more about eviction protections on your home by searching ProPublica's database.
On who the CARES Act covered in Georgia
Immergluck: The CARES Act covered pretty much any property that was either backed by a federal loan, or had some kind of housing subsidy involved in it. And that could be a voucher, but it's often also things like low-income housing tax credits. And it basically stopped filings — or was supposed to stop filings — on all those apartments. And ProPublica did excellent work finding that actually some of those landlords continued to file.
And fortunately, Georgia was one state where the courts eventually said, "You have to show us ahead of time that your unit is not covered by the CARES Act before you can file." In a lot of states, that didn't happen at all. So that it turns out the CARES Act covered probably about maybe 30 percent, 33 percent of rental properties.
On the landlords that continued to file evictions despite CARES Act protections
Simani: You're referring to a specific company that we profiled in this story called Ventron Management, which is a Florida based company that has thousands of units throughout Florida and Georgia. And what we found was that during the two months before the pandemic, they were filing about 700 cases in January and February. And that dropped down to around 400 cases over the past couple of months.
But that's still a significant number of eviction filings to be making, at a time where folks are out of work — you know, people are furloughed or lost their jobs. And ... that company also received what we imagine to be two to five million dollars in loans from the paycheck protection program, which was administered under the Small Business Administration.
On the efficacy of the CARES Act
Simani: One of the things we found in our reporting at ProPublica is that the CARES Act was actually very effective in sort of slowing the pace of evictions. One of the things we found was that prior to the implementation of the CARES Act, over 40% of evictions in metro Atlanta were at federally-backed apartments — apartments that are covered, of course, under the CARES Act. And that number dropped to around five percent during the pandemic.
Of course, you know, there were some folks that continued to file at other properties ... However, you know, one of the things we found was that this was actually, in conjunction with rent relief measures and other state and local eviction moratoriums around the country, this was actually a pretty effective way of trying to slow the pace of evictions for folks that are out of work or otherwise unable to pay their rent.
The CARES Act was actually very effective in sort of slowing the pace of evictions.
On confusion caused by the end of the CARES Act in late July
Reif: Monday morning by noon, we had received four to five calls from tenants who were calling because they had heard on the news that they were protected from eviction. They wanted to know why the sheriff was there telling them they had to leave, when they had heard on the news that they were protected.
And so we had to explain to them that, you know, we've looked at the language of the order and that it didn't take any action that would stop the court system from processing eviction. And that was very confusing for thought for the tenants that we spoke to, as you can imagine. And it's just another level of confusion that's been added to the situation tenants have been in since this happened in March.
On the new executive order to protect renters
Immergluck: The executive order from the president did not do anything to stop evictions. It basically said that they would look into it. And, of course, the president can only do so much himself. To do an actual kind of across-the-board eviction ban or eviction moratorium would take an act of Congress.
But I think what the president could have done and didn't do was extend much of the CARES Act protections. And it's disappointing that he not only didn't do that, he confused people, and took the steam out of negotiations and calls for extending those moratoria. So I actually think the executive orders were counterproductive.
They also didn't generate any rental assistance funding. He just directed (Housing and Urban Development) Secretary Carson to look for some money, which — it isn't clear there is any. And even the unemployment insurance extension, which isn't really an extension, but was a new program proposed? It's uncertain whether it will work. And if it does, he's structured it in a way to cut off the lowest income recipients of unemployment insurance, folks who receive regularly less than one hundred dollars a month. That's precisely the folks who are most risk of eviction. So I really think it was actually a destructive move.
On the importance of rental assistance
Reif: Congress, as part of the CARES Act, did allocate a large sum of money to both local governments and to state government agencies to distribute. And it's called rental assistance. And often that's thought of in terms of a benefit to tenants.
But, this rental arrearage is not paid to the tenant. It's paid to the landlord. So really, rental assistance is landlord assistance.
And landlords just need to agree to participate and accept these payments, in addition to not proceeding to that. And that money is — you know, it takes a while between the time Congress authorizes the money, the time it gets to the state and local governments, and the time it actually distributes it. We're really in a race right now to get that money into the communities that need it. That, to me, is the a central piece that needs to be in place right now. And it cannot come quickly enough for tenants who are facing eviction.
Rental assistance is landlord assistance.
On who is hit hardest by eviction
Reif: An eviction is not a symptom of poverty. It is a cause of poverty. When a family is evicted, it plunges them further and deeper into poverty. You know, an eviction put-out is loss of personal property. Those tenants have no place to move the items they have collected to. So they are usually scavenged or end up being picked up as trash. There's also the added expense of just trying to relocate, which is why we've seen so many people kind of get trapped in this extended stay hotel cycle that they can never really break out of.
What's interesting to me in this is: when the foreclosure crisis (hit), that really seemed to hit pretty much every economic group. What we're seeing now with the eviction crisis is it is hitting low-income people hard. You know, our clients at door to legal services are hourly workers, low education levels. Those are the people who lost their job first. And that's why the benefit programs, the unemployment (benefits) are so important, because this is a group that didn't have a safety net to begin with.
An eviction is not a symptom of poverty. It is a cause of poverty.
On how the housing landscape may change for low-income renters following widespread evictions
Immergluck: We're seeing nonpayment rates at older rental properties skyrocket. There was just a report in Bloomberg that a survey of what are called Class C landlords, meaning older rental properties — these are multi-family, but older rental properties — only 30 percent of rent payments were collected in July by middle of the month. That was down from 80 percent before the pandemic.
Those buildings are now threatened with a number of things. One is foreclosure. But, of course, even before that, they may be bought by private equity investors, by folks looking to turn those properties into more upscale properties. Because, you know, the upscale rental market is doing quite well. It really hasn't suffered significantly. And there's still a shortage of rental housing, believe it or not. And so those properties are going to get scooped up. Or, they might get abandoned. And that means that we're threatened with really a long-term loss of what some folks call "naturally occurring affordable housing," but what I tend to call just "low-cost rental housing." And that has short-term implications that are bad, but it also has long-term implications that are very bad.
Get in touch with us.