Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, tenants in the United States were facing a crisis. Rising costs, stagnant wages, and a shortage of rental homes made it all but impossible for the lowest-income people to find quality, accessible, and affordable homes. A patchwork of insufficient protections left far too many renters vulnerable to eviction. Centuries of systemic racism and racial discrimination in the housing market put people of color at especially high risk. Black and Latino tenants, especially women, were more likely to be threatened with eviction and were being evicted at disproportionately high rates.
The pandemic only exacerbated this crisis. The country’s broken housing system and threadbare safety net left many tenants unprepared to weather the pandemic and its economic fallout. As the virus spread, the connection between housing and health became clearer than ever. Without stable, quality homes, people were unable to socially distance to protect themselves from the virus. Meanwhile, a recession caused millions of households to fall behind on rent, putting them at risk of eviction when temporary eviction bans expired. A public health crisis that took a devastating toll on communities of color left the country on the brink of a mass eviction crisis as well.
After a major push by tenants and advocates, the administration and Congress established a federal eviction moratorium and the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program. Administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury), the program allocated unprecedented federal resources for paying back rental arrears. By now, more than 500 local programs have distributed billions of dollars of aid and assisted over 3 million families – yet too many tenants have been left out.
Some states and cities have exhausted their resources and stopped accepting new applications. Other programs have lagged in distributing resources or imposed bureaucratic hurdles making them difficult to access. Many renters are once again at risk of eviction, especially in communities of color, because these temporary solutions don’t address the long-term, systemic flaws in our housing system. To address the challenges involved in implementing emergency rental assistance, NLIHC launched the national effort known as End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions (ERASE). Through ERASE, NLIHC has worked closely with state and local partners to ensure this historic aid enacted by Congress reaches the lowest-income people.
This issue of Tenant Talk focuses on the successes and shortcomings of ERA, highlights renters’ perspectives on the program, and discusses opportunities for improvements based on tenant experiences. Together, we have the power to push for more equitable programs that stop evictions, dismantle racism in the housing system, and achieve long-term housing justice. We hope our magazine inspires you to join us!