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Growing numbers of cities and states are pausing evictions to help workers who've lost income during the coronavirus outbreak.
Cities across the country have started suspending evictions during the Covid-19 outbreak as a way to protect vulnerable populations and hourly workers who won't be paid if their employers shut down during the pandemic.
Officials in Boston, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, San Antonio, San Diego, Los Angeles and Portland announced measures to curb evictions during the outbreak, with similar statewide orders issued in New York and California.
Details of the suspensions vary from place to place, but the premise is similar in most cities. In Seattle, for example, the temporary moratorium suspends residential evictions related to non-payment, or partial payment, of rent for 30 days. It also prohibits late fees and prevents property owners from beginning court proceedings against tenants, as well as suspending action on existing “pay or vacate” notices.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the move was necessary to protect already impoverished populations who were likely to be hit hardest by the virus.
“We have entered an unprecedented era for our city. Too many families are already struggling, and Covid-19 virus has disproportionately affected the communities who can least afford it,” Durkan, a Democrat, said in a statement. “As we take steps to slow the spread of the virus across Seattle’s communities, a part of that response is to ensure that families are not displaced and forced into homelessness.”
In San Francisco, tenants are exempt from evictions if they suffer “a loss of income related to a business closure, loss of hours or wages, layoffs, or out-of-pocket medical costs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.” Affected tenants must notify their landlords that they’re unable to pay rent and, within one week, provide documentation that proves it. Once the city lifts its emergency declaration, tenants will have six months to repay any overdue rent.
“Protecting public health means keeping people secure in their housing, which we know is a challenge right now as our economy and our workers are being severely impacted by this crisis,” Mayor London N. Breed, a Democrat, said in a statement. “This moratorium will help people stay stable if they lose income because they get sick, a family member gets sick, or their job is impacted by the economic damage the coronavirus is causing.”
In Portland, renters who lose income as a result of the outbreak will have until May 31 to pay rent, with extensions possible. In Denver, officials said the city’s sheriff department would begin “temporarily redeploying” deputies away from evictions to other areas.
New York and California halted evictions at the state level, with California Gov. Gavin Newsom also calling for his state to also slow foreclosures on homeowners and protect against utility shutoffs for residents affected by the spread of the virus.
“People shouldn’t lose or be forced out of their home because of the spread of COVID-19,” he said in a statement. “Over the next few weeks, everyone will have to make sacrifices – but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them. I strongly encourage cities and counties take up this authority to protect Californians.”
Trade groups representing landlords have spoken out in favor of the policies. In Washington, for example, the Rental Housing Association and the Multi Family Housing Association recommended a 30-day moratorium on evictions in King County, the epicenter of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.
“A hold on physical evictions that allows court proceedings to continue has the dual benefit of keeping residents in their homes while opening paths to emergency rental assistance funds at the state and local level,” the Rental Housing Association of Washington said in a statement. “The 30-day hold can be renewed each month based on the needs of the community and status of Covid-19 illnesses.”
Nationwide, there are roughly 3.6 million eviction filings each year, according to the Eviction Lab, a Princeton University project that researches eviction trends. Roughly 40% of those are for less than $1,000, meaning people are often behind one or two rent payments before they lose their homes.
During a national health crisis, a halt on evictions is necessary to protect vulnerable populations but also to help contain the spread of the virus, according to Ricardo Flores, executive director of San Diego's Local Initiatives Support Coalition, which signed a letter urging the city council to halt evictions during the pandemic.
“During an unprecedented crisis where we’re being asked to quarantine and hygiene, there’s no way we can kick people out of their homes and stop the spread of this virus,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.