Opinion | What’s Between 30 Million Americans and an Eviction Tsunami? – By Francesca Mari – The New York Times


Ms. Mari is a writer.

Credit…Woody Harrington

“We’ve all been so concerned about the transition on Jan. 20 that many of us have forgotten another critical date for American democracy: Dec. 31. That’s when the federal eviction moratorium — which has held the pandemic-related eviction tsunami at bay — expires. After that date, more than 30 million Americans are at risk of losing their homes. Congress must act to stabilize the country’s rental market, prevent widespread displacement and curtail the growing domination of housing by big corporations.

More than half of renters pay 30 percent or more of their income on rent, according to the 2019 American Housing Survey, and more than half of lowest-income renter households reported some loss of employment income between mid-March and mid-September. Although CARES money has been flowing to states, which have established various rental assistance programs, all of them are oversubscribed.

“I can’t point to a city that says we’ve got this figured out,” Mary Cunningham, vice president for metropolitan housing and communities policy at the Urban Institute, told me. “It’s really the role of the federal government to provide. They’re the ones with the ability to match the need.”

“Cancel rent,” the movement calling for rent strikes, is a useful tactic against the most notorious, fee-gouging corporate landlords. But close to half of the country’s 47.5 million rental units aren’t corporate-owned, as of 2015. These units, typically single-family homes or apartments in smaller multifamily buildings, are owned by individuals with their own mortgages and bills. And the units they rent in their smaller complexes generally cost less. Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, introduced a Rent and Mortgage Cancellation bill. But that bill, which proposed government reimbursement for landlords and lenders who agree to adhere to fair practices, has been all but ignored. Congress isn’t going to pick up the bag and pay the difference, so widespread canceling of rent is a sure path to displacement: either the landlord will evict, or the landlord will be forced to sell.

Cue the vulture investors who have been circling from the start. Private equity entered the pandemic with more “dry powder” than ever before. That’s the industry term for money earmarked for a certain type of investment, like real estate, but not yet invested. It’s money waiting for a great opportunity, one that the Trump administration’s catastrophic management of the pandemic will surely provide. During the last financial crisis, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made millions buying a failed bank that proceeded to foreclose on homeowners using methods that regulators accused of being “unsafe or unsound.” Other private equity funds amassed foreclosed homes and created single-family rental home empires. As the home values recovered, private equity cashed out of the companies, reaping maximum profits. Now those rental companies, like Invitation Homes, which has 80,000 houses concentrated in 17 markets, told investors that it hopes to ramp up acquisitions.