Washington, D.C. — Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said a “perfect storm” is coming for those at risk of eviction or foreclosure.
As the top Democrat on the Senate Banking and Housing Committee, Brown said he’s not alarmist, but he’s worried.
“We keep saying stay home, be safe, protect your family, and then we’re going to allow all these evictions,” Brown said in a virtual interview last week.
Eviction courts have started to reopen in Ohio, even as the coronavirus is spreading, and many workplaces remain closed or have reduced hours.
Because Congress currently has no plan to extend that extra $600 per week in federal unemployment insurance past July, Brown thinks a lot of people will have nowhere to turn.
“They can’t find a job, and their unemployment runs out, what are they supposed to do?” Brown said.
He’s joined many Democrats in calling for unemployment insurance to be extended for at least $100 billion to go toward a rental assistance program, and he wants the federal eviction moratorium to be extended into next year and expanded to cover more renters (since less than half are currently covered).
In an interview at the White House on Tuesday, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson talked about Brown’s comments.
When asked if he agreed that there would be a crisis if federal help didn't continue past this month, Carson said, “Well, I agree that the federal government has a significant role to play in making sure that that doesn’t occur.”
Carson pointed out that the federal moratorium will now go through August, and he said it would be extended again if necessary.
But he said the focus should now be on intelligently reopening instead of more federal programs.
“We’re not just looking at how does the government solve everybody’s problem,” Carson said. “We’re looking at how do we use the private sector and how do we use American ingenuity and innovation. All of these things together are what will make it work.”
More than 3.5 million Ohioans rent their homes, and data from the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project suggests one in five American renters (or 20 percent) could be at risk of eviction by the end of September.
“Evicting 20 percent of people would be a national disaster, so there’s no way we’re going to sit by and allow that to happen,” Carson said. “So people can forget about that. That’s just not going to happen.”
But the White House strategy is unclear, and Congress is divided over what to do.
Ohio Congressman Steve Stivers (R, 15th Congressional District) is the top Republican on a House subcommittee focused on housing.
In an interview last week, he told me he supports some type of temporary housing assistance once the increased unemployment benefits go away, but he’s concerned renters could become complacent.
“I do worry, if we extend the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, that we will get a bigger backlog and we will give people perverse incentives to actually not pay their mortgage or not pay their rent,” Stivers said.
Brown, in an interview on July 2, argued doing nothing will be inhumane.
“There will always be people that from time to time game the system, but the great majority of people that are about to be evicted are hardworking, they pay their rent, they’re working in their jobs, they lost their jobs, they don’t know how they’re going to pay — yesterday was July 1, they don’t know how they’re going to pay this month’s rent,” he said. “Next month will be even harder. Then the following month will be harder unless Congress acts, as we should.”
While some local courts in Ohio put in place temporary moratoriums on evictions or foreclosures, one was never established statewide.
And while some counties did receive money from the CARES Act to help renters, it’s not yet clear if Congress will add more to the pot.