ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:
Emergency rental aid has kept millions of people in their homes during the pandemic. But the last of that federal funding will be allotted this summer, and some places are running out of money already. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports that is sending evictions way up.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: For Wayne Meschke in Plymouth, Minn., eight months of federal rental aid was a huge relief. The 61-year-old works in hospitality and says his company was devastated when COVID hit. He then missed more work with a case of breakthrough COVID last fall. His income has still not recovered.
WAYNE MESCHKE: It's like a wave. There'll be a month that it's OK, and then I'll go three months and it's not.
LUDDEN: But in January, Minnesota's rental assistance program ran out of its share of money and shut down. Meschke's aid stopped in April. Then came an eviction notice.
MESCHKE: I have five adult kids. I may have to go live with one of them in their houses.
LUDDEN: Since Minnesota's aid program shut down, eviction filings are way up. The same thing's happening in Houston.
DANA KARNI: Our tenants are having to decide between buying food for their children or their elderly parents or paying rent. And that's a real tight squeeze.
LUDDEN: Dana Karni is with Lone Star Legal Aid, and she says this is happening even though Houston was given more money after its rental aid first ran out. It's part of an effort to shift funds to where they're needed most. But not all landlords or property managers help tenants get that aid. Janie Mendoza is a single mother of six in Houston and fighting an eviction notice.
JANIE MENDOZA: The one manager that was helping me from before - once she left and another manager came in, it just turned everything upside down.
LUDDEN: Even if all worked well, attorney Karni says the rental aid that's left is not nearly enough.
KARNI: At the moment, we're seeing an outrageous number of filings every week, and I don't think it's going down not only anytime soon but maybe ever again.
LUDDEN: Diane Yentel has the same worry. She heads the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
DIANE YENTEL: The longer we go past the time the eviction protections or resources are gone, the more we're seeing, in some of these cities, eviction filing rates reach 150%, 200% of pre-pandemic averages.
LUDDEN: Now, that's not happening everywhere, and some cities are doing a lot to try and help people before they're evicted. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University tracks filings in six states and 31 cities. Researcher Peter Hepburn says after the national eviction moratorium ended last August, numbers rose slowly. But this spring, as rental aid programs have started closing, the eviction filings overall have reached nearly the same level as before the pandemic.
PETER HEPBURN: There's no limit on landlords' ability to use the courts to evict people. And there's less incentive for them to try an alternative because the money that was there that could make them whole again, that could pay back rent, is no longer there in a lot of cases.
LUDDEN: The end of rental aid hits landlords, too, says Greg Brown of the National Apartment Association, especially small ones with months of unpaid rent and bills. And he says this moment comes as the country's larger affordable housing crisis has only grown worse. Rents skyrocketed in the past year. Supply chain problems and now inflation are slowing badly needed new construction.
GREG BROWN: It's kind of amazing that all of this has happened right around the same time, and it's a real tenuous situation for both providers and developers and residents.
LUDDEN: He says housing is so tight, occupancy rates nationally have hit a record 97%.
BROWN: Higher than that in some markets. I actually have a member who told me two weeks ago that they have 8,000 units, and they have eight vacancies out of 8,000.
LUDDEN: Brown says this crisis needs a long-term fix. For now, as federal rental aid runs out, the Biden administration is urging states and cities to step in and help those still struggling to stay in their homes.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.
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