Eviction crisis unfolds as courts process backlog of filed cases

by Lindsey Wells

Eviction filings are rising as millions of Americans are being forced from their homes months after lawmakers allowed the federally imposed eviction moratorium to expire. 

The federal eviction ban, along with other state and federal laws imposed during the height of the pandemic, was a lifeline for those that lost income and couldn’t afford to pay housing costs when an overload of COVID-19 cases forced Americans to stay home in 2020.

While there was a brief lull in eviction filings after the CDC ended the ban in July 2021, housing advocates report that new eviction filings are rapidly rising in many parts of the country as the year closes out its final days, according to a release from the Associated Press. 

Even so, eviction numbers are still below pre-pandemic levels — for now. The infusion of federal rental assistance and other pandemic-related assistance, such as expanded child tax credit payments, continues to keep many Americans afloat. However, those benefits are also set to expire, which could spur a second wave of eviction cases.

Part of the increase is fueled by court systems catching up on the backlog of cases since the federal eviction moratorium expired in July, in addition to rising housing costs in many U.S. markets. 

According to the latest data from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, eviction filings have been rising in most of the 31 cities and six states where it collects data, including Houston, Texas; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; and Tampa and Gainesville, Fla.

Filings increased 10.4% from the first half of August to the first half of September. In the first half of October, numbers were 38% above August levels and 25% higher than September before plunging again in November. Now, eviction filings remain about 48% below pre-pandemic levels, but the numbers are expected to rise again as the holidays approach.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, the number of individuals claiming they weren’t confident in their ability to pay next month’s rent increased from about 5 million at the end of September to 6.3 million in the latest data.

“What we are seeing is a reflection of reality, which is that evictions take time to work their way into and through the court system,” said Ben Martin, senior researcher at Texas Housers, a nonprofit focused on housing issues. 

Gene Sperling, who oversees the implementation of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, said some increase in evictions was inevitable after the eviction ban ended. “But fortunately, because the Emergency Rental Assistance program is now paying full back-rent to about 500,000 renters each month, the eviction tsunami that experts feared has not occurred,” Sperling said in the release. 

Nevertheless, states and cities are running out of rental assistance funds. The Treasury Department expects that upwards of $30 billion, or about two-thirds of the rent relief money, will have been spent or allocated by the end of the year. States like Texas and Oregon have exhausted their funds and stopped accepting new applicants, with New York, Pennsylvania and California following closely in their tracks.

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