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‘Impending wave of evictions’ looms as pandemic moratorium nears expiration, Harvard study warns


(NEW YORK) — A potential housing crisis looms over the nation’s post-pandemic recovery, researchers warn, as more than 4 million Americans said they could lose their home in the next two months.

With a disproportionately large share of those facing evictions or foreclosures low-income or people of color, that would exacerbate existing inequalities when it comes to housing, according to a report released this week from researchers at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Meanwhile, those who weathered the pandemic-induced downturn without losing income are snapping up the limited supply of homes for sale and causing prices to skyrocket, the report stated, further putting affordable housing or homeownership out of reach for many.

“Even as the U.S. economy continues to recover, the inequalities amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic remain front and center,” the researchers wrote in the report.

Some 4.2 million Americans report that it is “very likely or somewhat likely” that they will face an eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to a Census survey conducted between May 26 and June 7 that was released on Wednesday.

Separate data from the Harvard report said that 17% of renter households were behind on their rent in early 2021. Racial disparities also persist among renters, with 29% of Black, 21% of Hispanic and 18% of Asian renters behind on payments compared with just 11% of white renters, the report stated.

“With so many renters in financial distress, there are serious concerns about an impending wave of evictions,” the researchers wrote. “So far, substantial federal relief through stimulus payments, expanded unemployment benefits, and other funding, along with federal and state eviction moratoriums, have prevented large-scale displacement.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic-era eviction moratorium, however, is set to expire at the end of the month. Moreover, many states have slashed expanded pandemic unemployment benefits in what some economists say is a misguided approach to encourage people to reenter the workforce.

The nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition implored the Biden administration to “prevent a historic wave of evictions” this summer by extending the moratorium and distributing rental assistance more efficiently. With COVID-19 still present, the group argued that allowing the moratorium to expire before vaccination rates increase in marginalized communities could lead to a rise in cases and deaths from the virus.

Their argument is backed up by new research published last Friday by the Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which found that neighborhoods with the highest eviction filing rates have the lowest levels of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Our findings suggest that those most at risk of being evicted are still at high risk of contracting and passing the virus,” the Eviction Lab researchers wrote.

Finally, the Harvard report delved into the housing market “bubble” fears as prices rise sharply. The researchers said home sales are at their highest levels since 2006, a trend propelled in part by young home buyers and record-low interest rates, but downplayed fears of a bubble.

The researchers did note that racial disparities remain pronounced as national homeownership rates tick up. The Black-white homeownership gap was just over 28% in the first quarter of 2021, according to the report, which linked this in part to the racial income gap as the median income of white households ($71,000) is some 65% higher than Black households ($43,000).

The report also stated that some 2.3 million homeowners were in active forbearance in early 2021, and that those in these circumstances were more likely to be households of color and/or have little equity in their homes.

Ultimately, researchers and advocates are urging policymakers to not neglect those who have fallen further behind amid the pandemic-induced downturn and to aim for an equitable recovery as the economy begins to bounce back.

“For those households with secure employment and good-quality housing, their homes provided a safe haven from the pandemic,” Chris Herbert, the managing director of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, said in a statement. “But for millions struggling to cover the rent or mortgage, their housing situations have become increasingly insecure and these disparities are likely to persist even as the economy recovers, with many lower-income households slow to regain their financial footing.”

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