Millions Of Americans Could Be Facing Eviction : Consider This from NPR Back in March, Congress approved nearly $50 billion in aid for people who need rental assistance to avoid eviction. At the same time a federal moratorium on evictions is expected to be extended till the end of the July.

Millions Of Americans Could Be Facing Eviction

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Mehran Mossaddad is a single dad who lives in Atlanta with his 10-year-old daughter, and he has spent much of the last year scared and lying awake at night.

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MEHRAN MOSSADDAD: I can't sleep. I get panic attacks not knowing what's in store for us.

SHAPIRO: Mossaddad drives Uber for a living, but when the pandemic hit, he stopped. With his daughter home from school, he couldn't leave her alone.

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MOSSADDAD: I have to take care of her, my daughter.

SHAPIRO: As a result, he's more than $15,000 behind on his rent, and his landlord has filed an eviction case against him. So back in March, when Mossaddad heard Congress had approved nearly $50 billion for people to catch up on rent, it felt like divine intervention.

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MOSSADDAD: I do believe in miracles. I'm like, well, something ought to happen. Something will happen. We've done nothing wrong.

SHAPIRO: That nearly $50 billion from Congress? That money goes to the states and then on to the county and city level, where different programs are popping up to take applications and write checks to renters and landlords. It's gone relatively well in some places.

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STEPHANIE GRAVES: The government funding has helped. They have not been, you know, evicted from their homes. It's a great, great thing.

SHAPIRO: Stephanie Graves is a landlord in Houston. She manages 1,800 units. And she went door to door encouraging residents to apply for the help.

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GRAVES: They've applied for funding, and over half of those people have gotten funding, are still in their apartments. And the system's worked.

SHAPIRO: Mehran Mossaddad in Atlanta has also applied for this funding, but he says his county caps the amount anyone can receive at $5,000. That's less than a third what he owes in backdated rent.

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MOSSADDAD: Which is very generous - it really is. But it's not going to solve our problem.

SHAPIRO: For now, he's protected by an eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the meantime, Mossaddad has been calling different landlords to find a new place. But because of his eviction case, he says nobody will rent to him.

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MOSSADDAD: So things are looking pretty ugly right now. And I don't know what is going to happen to me and my daughter.

SHAPIRO: CONSIDER THIS - an estimated 7 million Americans are still behind on rent. And even just the threat of eviction may make it harder for them to find a place to live.

From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Wednesday, June 23.

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SHAPIRO: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. We're going to stay in Atlanta for a bit where another renter, Katrina Chism, also fell behind on rent. And back in January, she got a knock at the door.

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KATRINA CHISM: I remember going to the door and a sheriff standing there, and it scared me because I didn't know why he was at my house.

SHAPIRO: The reason was that her landlord had filed an eviction case against her. Chism says she scrambled to find a temporary job, which she did, and so she caught up on rent.

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CHISM: I worked my butt off, and I borrowed money, and I saved everything that I could.

SHAPIRO: But once that temporary job ended, she fell behind again. Chism applied for the federal rental assistance money, just like Mehran Mossaddad, and she got it. But she and her lawyers say her landlord refused to take it. The landlord disputes that. But Chism says she was told she either had to leave or she'd be evicted.

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CHISM: Once you get that eviction, no one's going to want you to rent from them. So me and my son will be - I mean, I don't want to be in a homeless situation.

SHAPIRO: Chism's landlord is a company that is owned by a private equity firm called Pretium Partners. They have been filing eviction cases against a lot of people during the pandemic.

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JIM BAKER: The company has filed to evict more than a thousand residents since last September.

SHAPIRO: Jim Baker is with the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a nonprofit group that's been tracking eviction filings by big corporate landlords. They've done a report on Pretium, and they found that Black residents like Katrina Chism are far more likely to be evicted.

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BAKER: They're filing to evict residents at rates four times as high in majority-Black counties.

SHAPIRO: Baker's group got that number by looking at four counties where Pretium owns hundreds of rental homes. They compared properties in two mostly white counties in Florida with two mostly Black counties in Georgia. The counties have similar median incomes. And yet, in the majority-white areas, Pretium only filed for eviction against 2% of the renters.

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BAKER: By comparison, they filed to evict 10 to 12% of their residents in majority-Black counties in Georgia just since the beginning of the year. So it's incredibly disturbing.

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SHAPIRO: Pretium said in a statement that the report is misleading and makes, quote, "baseless assertions." They also said they've added more than a dozen employees to help residents avoid eviction during the pandemic. But that report showing the stark racial disparity has already made its way to Capitol Hill.

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CHRIS ARNOLD: It certainly caught the attention of chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Sherrod Brown.

BAKER: NPR correspondent Chris Arnold has been reporting on pandemic evictions.

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ARNOLD: He sent a letter to the company asking for a meeting, and he wants answers about what's going on. The company says it's going to cooperate. And we should say that the company says the report is misleading and makes baseless assertions, and it says that it provides equal support to all residents.

SHAPIRO: Chris Arnold told me that what's happening with Pretium, though alarming, isn't that unusual. There's evidence from across the country of a disparate impact on Black renters.

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ARNOLD: A recent study out of the eviction lab at Princeton University looked at millions of court records of eviction cases across 39 states over a number of years. This goes back before the pandemic. Peter Hepburn is one of the researchers who did the study.

PETER HEPBURN: Nationwide, on average, we're seeing eviction filing rates against Black renters that are about twice as high as what we see for white renters.

ARNOLD: And as far as why that's happening, Ari, he says there are a lot of reasons.

HEPBURN: And some of them are just economic, right? We know that Black renters have lower incomes. They have less stable employment as well. They have less in savings, and they're less able to call on family ties to provide financial support in the event of an emergency.

ARNOLD: But Hepburn thinks, too, that sometimes landlords are just treating people differently, being quicker to file eviction cases against Black renters.

SHAPIRO: You've been talking to people who are on the verge of getting evicted or who have been evicted. What are they telling you about their experiences in the pandemic?

ARNOLD: Well, you know, some of what we just heard Hepburn talking about - right? - I mean, Black families historically tend to have less wealth and less savings for an emergency. So it's just harder to call mom and dad or your uncle to borrow some money. And you see that. I spoke with a man named Ivy Ross in Jacksonville, Fla., and he lost his job cleaning and detailing semitrucks. He also had hours cut at a second job. And he and his wife fell about $5,000 behind on the rent, and they're facing eviction.

IVY ROSS: We're that couple where - people come to us when they need something. We're usually the ones to help others. So it was like - and this time, when the roles has changed, if they came right now today and kicked me out this house, I ain't got nowhere to go. I'd be looking at a hotel room.

ARNOLD: And hotel rooms, of course, are more expensive than just renting your place. But with an eviction on your record, it's very hard to find another place to rent. So people end up falling deeper and deeper into debt a lot of the time, even living in their cars. You can just end up in this downward spiral.

SHAPIRO: But Congress approved billions of dollars in rental assistance to help people like Ivy Ross. I mean, why hasn't that come through for so many people who are in that situation?

ARNOLD: Yeah, I mean, excellent question - I mean, it's nearly $50 billion. The problem is that the money flows from the federal government to the states and then the counties and the cities. And now, there is this tangle of 389 different programs at last count distributing this federal money. And some of them are working really well. Some are kind of a mess and have overly restrictive rules. And there's just a lot of confusion.

Ivy Ross and his wife - we just heard from Ivy that they tried to apply to the county program, and they were told that the deadline had passed. But nobody told them that people are now supposed to apply through a different program, one run by the state. And so, he just thought he was out of luck. And meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

SHAPIRO: And we're just going to pause the conversation with a note about that ticking clock. The CDC moratorium on evictions is set to expire at the end of June - this month. But several news outlets have reported that this is expected to get extended through July.

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ARNOLD: One argument for extending it is to give this rental assistance money and the programs more time to work. In Boston, I talked to a renter. She's an African American single mom with two kids, Nancy Marazni (ph). And she says she's never faced eviction before this. She lost work during the pandemic, and she was really scared. But the program there just told her she is getting a lot of back rent paid with that federal money.

NANCY MARAZNI: I believe it was 15,000. I was in complete shock. I was crying. I was in tears. I was so grateful. I was so excited and so happy that, finally, something good is happening.

ARNOLD: And, of course, she doesn't have that huge debt hanging over her head, either. But, you know, in a lot of places, it's just not working this well yet. And people need more time to get the help.

SHAPIRO: Any idea how many people in the U.S. are being protected by the CDC moratorium?

ARNOLD: You know, that's actually a very tricky question. It's very hard to track how many of those millions of people who are behind on rent are actually facing eviction. And also, the CDC order does not protect everyone, and this gets confusing. This came up with Ivy Ross in Jacksonville. He had heard about this moratorium.

ROSS: But it's like - it's a different story when I got somebody knocking on my door with papers or I got a letter on my door that's been taped to my door while I'm at work. So it's kind of made me feel like, well, damn, is the news lying? You know what I'm saying? Because I would think if it's a law out saying, OK, no evictions, then why are y'all coming sticking this stuff on our door?

ARNOLD: And here's the thing - the CDC protections, they're not automatic. You know, you need to go to the CDC website, print out a thing, sign this declaration, give it to your landlord and the court. A lot of people don't realize that. So they might think that they're protected when they're not. Or they don't even know about this at all, and they don't sign this stuff that they got to sign. But there are a lot of estimates, though, that say this CDC order is still protecting hundreds of thousands of people, maybe upwards of a million, could be more - it's hard to say - and that it is really important.

SHAPIRO: And what do landlords say about all this?

ARNOLD: Well, the landlord groups universally now say, look, it's time they regained control of their properties. They say the worst of the pandemic is over. The CDC should not have the power to tie their hands anymore. Housing groups say, though, look, you know, there's still a lot of people who are not vaccinated. There's these scary-sounding variants flying around. And particularly in Black and brown communities, there aren't as many people vaccinated. And we know that evictions spread COVID because they force people into more crowded living situations. There's research about that. Still, landlords are asking the Supreme Court to step in to block the - what's happening here with the CDC protecting renters. So we're waiting to see what happens there.

SHAPIRO: And even for people who do manage to get this rental assistance money, are they just going to have on their record that a landlord filed to evict them, which could affect their housing prospects going forward?

ARNOLD: Yeah, I mean, that's always a problem with people when they're even just facing eviction, right? I mean, Nancy Marazni, who we heard from who got that $15,000 in help, she's ecstatic. But that eviction case is going to stay on her record. It will show that she resolved it. She wasn't evicted. That's better than the alternative. But that could still make it harder for her to find places to rent in the future. It could make it harder for her to buy a home, to become a homeowner. And the Black homeownership rate is much lower than the rate for white homeowners. So there are just a lot of ways that this disparate impact on Black renters echoes forward and affects a lot of people's lives.

SHAPIRO: NPR correspondent Chris Arnold.

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SHAPIRO: You're listening to CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ari Shapiro.

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