Just as important as those protections were the federal unemployment and stimulus payments. After all, most renters do not have eviction problems if they stay current on their bills, and with help from the $1,200 stimulus payments and $600 in extended unemployment that came with the CARES Act, many of them have.
That help is ending, and renters are slipping off the cliff.
Benjamin Schenk, a San Diego landlord who operates 30 units in two buildings, is one of the many property owners who have been surprised by the high number of tenants paying their rent in the early months of the pandemic. In March he was talking with his lenders about how he might restructure his loans in anticipation of nonpayments, only to make it to August with payment rates close to 100 percent, which he attributes to the CARES Act.
But people are now falling behind. Though it will take until mid-month to get a true sense of how bad August will be, several tenants who lost their jobs stopped paying rent in the first few days. “The aid that folks are relying on has dried up and not a lot of places are hiring,” Mr. Schenk said.
While there’s no comprehensive data on rent payments, a weekly tracker from the National Multifamily Housing Council that covers about 11 million units has started slipping. In the Census Bureau’s most recent Pulse Survey, for the week of July 16 to 21, just under one in five renters said they were unable to pay July’s rent on time, while one in three were unsure they could make August payments.
The threat to small landlords is also a threat to tenants. About 40 percent of the nation’s 48.2 million rental units are owned by “mom-and-pop” operators who tend to have a limited financial cushion. Since much of the nation’s affordable housing consists of small apartment buildings and single-family homes if these smaller landlords go under many of their units could be “lost.” Some would become owner-occupied housing. Others will get acquired by larger investors who plan renovations and rent increases — compounding a longstanding affordable housing shortage.
Evictions have piled up and are now resuming.
Evictions, meted out by local courts, are difficult to tally nationwide. For now, new filings are depressed compared with historical averages, according to a survey of a dozen cities by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. But they have resumed around the country, and are likely to grow.
There is a difference between an eviction filing, which is the start of a legal process, and an actual eviction, in which a tenant is removed. According to Eviction Lab, there were 3.7 million such filings in 2016, about one million of which led to an eviction — a figure that undercounts displacement.