Eviction Moratorium

The Eviction Tsunami That Wasn't

A month after the Supreme Court struck down the CDC's eviction moratorium, eviction filings remain well below pre-pandemic averages.

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When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in late August, housing activists, researchers, and politicians warned that an eviction tsunami would be the inevitable result.

"The tragic, consequential, and entirely avoidable outcome of this ruling will be millions of people losing their homes this fall and winter, just as the delta variant ravages communities and lives," said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in late August.

"The Supreme Court failed to protect 11 million households across our country from violent eviction in the middle of a deadly global pandemic," said Rep. Cori Bush (D–Mo.), citing one estimate of how many renters were behind on rent.

Economic projections of how many evictions could be expected without a national moratorium painted an equally dire picture.

The Aspen Institute in July said that 15 million people were behind on rent and at risk of eviction. The U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey from the last two weeks in August found 7.6 million people reported behind on rent, and of those, 3.5 million said they were very likely or somewhat likely to be evicted in the next two months.

Nevertheless, a month after the end of the federal eviction moratorium, these millions of evictions have yet to materialize. Indeed, while filings have increased, they remain well below historical averages almost everywhere in the country.

Eviction filings rose 8.75 percent from August to September, according to data tracked by Princeton University's Eviction Lab, which tracks eviction filings in six states and 31 cities (which covers about a quarter of all renters).

"It's going up but it's not going up by a ton," says Peter Hepburn, a sociology professor at Rutgers University and researcher with Eviction Lab. "You look at September relative to historic averages, that leaves eviction filings at 48.5 percent below historic averages…We didn't see a jump up to normal, let alone a jump past normal into a giant wave of eviction filings."

Explanations abound for why this is.

One is that while the federal moratorium is no more, local and state moratoriums remain in place across the country.

Austin, Texas, for instance, still has its own local eviction moratorium in effect. Evictions there were about 20 percent of historic averages in September 2021, which was basically unchanged from August. New York City, which is covered by a state moratorium, is likewise seeing only about 10 percent of the normal rate of evictions.

Evictions have increased more markedly in places that were only covered by the CDC moratorium.

Connecticut, where a state moratorium expired at the end of June, saw a little over 1,000 eviction filings in September alone.

"That's the highest number of evictions filed since March 2020, when the pandemic began. It's almost double the number of evictions filed in August 2021," says Erin Kemple of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center. "While we're not meeting the numbers prior to the pandemic yet, we're getting close."

Even with that sharp increase in evictions and no local moratorium in place, however, filing rates are about 60 percent of historical averages in Connecticut. That's true for most other states and cities for which the federal moratorium was the last protection against eviction.

Another possible explanation is that states and cities are finally starting to get the $46 billion in federally funded rent relief they've been given to landlords and tenants, and thus suppressing evictions.

The early rollout of these programs was disastrous in many states. Applicants reported crashing websites, and demands for documents they didn't have. Even if they did manage to submit applications, it often took months before governments actually paid out checks.

City and state government agencies tasked with administering these programs, for their part, complained that a lack of staff and technical expertise was hamstringing their ability to effectively distribute funds.

But in the past couple of months, the speed at which governments are spending this money is increasing rapidly.

From January to May 2021, jurisdictions managed to spend only $1.5 billion of the first $25 billion in rent relief funds appropriated by Congress, according to U.S. Treasury Department data. In August alone, $2.2 billion went out the door.

Obviously, more money going to landlords and tenants to cover back rent and utilities would have fewer landlords looking to evict tenants. That's particularly true in states where landlords are required to drop eviction proceedings as a condition of accepting rent relief funds.

The increasing efficiency of these programs might also give landlords who have yet to be paid the necessary confidence that funds will come eventually, thus suppressing eviction filings further.

"If you're in a state that is not distributing money or that process is so slow that it is not worth it, maybe you don't have the patience to go through it and you'd rather take the loss and evict someone and try to replace them quickly," says Hepburn. "If you're in a state or city where the local program is moving really efficiently, maybe you'd have more willingness to wait."

Data have shown a pretty tight relationship between eviction filings and rent relief spending.

And yet, even places that are doing a poor job of spending rent relief money are still seeing below-average evictions. Cincinnati, Ohio, has spent only about 15 percent of the first batch of rent relief funds it has received, and yet filings are about 80 percent of the historical average. St. Louis, Missouri, has spent just under 40 percent of its rent relief funds. Nevertheless, eviction filings were down 40 percent from the average in September.

Another explanation is that, contra expectations, evictions were never set to surge during the pandemic-induced recession.

"My guess is if there had been no moratoria whatsoever, evictions would have still fallen very sharply in the spring of last year when landlords had very little shot of getting someone else in, and then bounced around at below normal levels," Salim Furth, a researcher at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, told Reason in June.

During a down economy, he explains, landlords have an incentive to work out deals with tenants who have trouble paying their bills. The alternative is to go through the expense of evicting a tenant only to have a vacancy that might be hard to fill in tough economic times.

There is some evidence that landlords were more willing to cut tenants slack during the pandemic.

According to a report from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, 48 percent of surveyed landlords deferred rent in 2020, up from 15 percent in 2019. Some 21 percent of landlords forgave some rent, up from 3 percent in 2019. The number of landlords who waived late fees also doubled.

A slower-than-expected economic recovery during 2021 is conceivably continuing to put downward pressure on eviction filings, even in places with no eviction protections and poorly run rent relief programs.

Below-average evictions still aren't likely to last forever.

"Getting back to normal, evictions, like everything else in the economy, will get back to normal," says Furth. Kemple likewise says that the trend in Connecticut's evictions suggests the state is returning to pre-pandemic levels of evictions.

By all indications, that increase will look more like a normal rising tide, and less like the predicted massive tsunami.

That hasn't stopped policy makers from either extending moratoriums where they still exist or attempt to reimpose them where they've lapsed. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan recently extended that city's eviction moratorium through January 2022.

Progressive lawmakers led by Bush and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) have introduced a bill that would create a nationwide eviction moratorium even more sweeping than the now-invalidated CDC order.

Housing activists are quick to point out that America had a high rate of evictions prior to the pandemic, and that a return to normal is not necessarily something to shoot for. Nevertheless, eviction moratoriums were never intended to be a long-term solution. They also come with serious negative consequences for property rights and property owners.

The rush to reimpose a federal moratorium, even though no sudden surge in evictions is on the horizon, is evidence of just how hard it is for politicians to let go of these emergency regulations.

NEXT: Trust in Media and Elected Officials Near Record Lows in Gallup Poll

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  1. Cori Bush is free to provide housing for all of these folks.

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  2. Because some of the politicians are ideologically against property rights, contract law and market economics. They do not think paying rent is just. They will not give it up because they hate pre-pandemic world.

    1. Just a reminder, again, that the CDC eviction moratorium was initiated by an executive order from the desk of President Donald Trump.

      1. So we are not to complain if Trump started it? You have a remarkable case of TDS.

        1. Not the point. The point is if you are making a list of “politicians are ideologically against property rights, contract law and market economics”, you must include Donald J. Trump on that list. He is not the libertarian savior that dome, Ken Shultz for example, make him out to be.

          1. Ken is still living rent-free in your head. And you now have the right to evict him…but not the ability.

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          2. Saying “most libertarian since Coolidge” is not saying 100% libertarian.

            He was, however, far more libertarian than the Johnson/Weld ticket opposing him in 2016.

            1. Trump began pandering when he realized he was about to be smeared with the all the shit the CDC and blue state governors did that killed 10s of thousands of elderly at the beginning of the pandemic.

              Pandering is not libertarian. Sticking your opponent with your own mistakes is even less libertarian.

              The left is still more upset over Cuomo’s gross hugs than his emergency order that forced nursing homes to accept COVID positive patients.

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          3. No. That was the point you tried to make. Because you’re a leftist.

      2. Yes, we all know Trump is the evil monster under your bed.

      3. You admitted to not being a libertarian and lying about it your entire life.

        Mike Laursen
        October.8.2021 at 10:54 am
        Flag Comment Mute User
        I’m a life-long libertarian, but I’m not longer interested in a libertarianism that isn’t coupled with adult behavior and a sense of responsibility, including civil responsibility. Selfish, childish libertarianism is not a good thing.

        Of course adult behavior here is having people do what you want them to do, not doing what they want to do.

        Youre not libertarian.

        1. Mike is not even a HO2-ed down version of a libertarian.

          1. You misspelled ‘authoritarian collectivist’.

      4. So? Trump was nowhere near perfect. This shit that one should mindlessly agree with anything a political does is a democrat thing. And it was wrong. Biden, who is a corrupt, tyrannical shitbag dragged it out. So he’s even more wrong and also guilty of a plethora of crimes and villainy.

        1. Biden dragged it out even *after* SCOTUS told him there was no authority to do so.

    2. But, but, I learned in ECON 101 that rent-seeking behaviors are bad. What do mean, ‘That’s not what that means’?

  3. So effective was the eviction moratorium that just the threat of it keeps evictions from happening. This is clearly a successful policy that will be emulated repeatedly from here on out.

    1. It was also preceded by blue state and blue city eviction moratoriums, where there are the largest number of dwellings.

      So when the federal one fell, landlords were forced to keep tenants who stopped paying rent over a year ago.

  4. Are there any government programs that aren’t a failure?

    1. Sorta like Trump, there are some which are far better than the alternatives, so we accept the ‘issues’ incumbent in them.
      The interstate highway system would have been far more wasteful if the local governments attempted it; imagine what it would have cost if it were handled by hundreds of Newsoms nationwide (Bay Bridge example).
      National defense would be far more difficult; General Cuomo? Yikes!
      But not many.

  5. The People’s Republic of NJ extended the eviction moratorium through December 2021. There is now a proposal to make this permanent. Only in the People’s Republic. Swear to God, can’t wait to leave here. It is eerily becoming like the USSR.

    1. You better make it quick. Small step from ‘no evictions’ to ‘no moving’.

  6. But left wing media propagandists have manufactured hundreds of fake news stories (ever since Trump imposed CDC’s rent relief, which was one of his stupidest decisions as POTUS) insisting that eliminating CDC’s free housing policy would create thousands or even millions of newly homeless people.

    Seems like Reason writers and editors never blame (and rarely mention) the left wing media propagandists who have been knowingly and intentionally lying to Americans every day in an ongoing attempt to impose their left wing socialist policies on this nation.

  7. Does Cori Bush have a bushy core?

    1. It think of him more as a cushy bore.

    2. Certainly speaks only in overblown rhetoric, and from its speech, is full of shit.

    3. That’s another re-election campaign to target with LICK BUSH bumper stickers. (LORDY but I love it when people with that last name run for office!)

  8. It’s almost as if landlords and tenants have common interests that lefty shits, with zero understanding of, or trust in, the market, refuse to admit!

  9. Well, I am sure Biden will find a way to keep all the conservatives who lose their jobs for refusing an experimental vaccine in their rental homes.
    For the children

  10. If I’m a landlord and I have a tenant who didn’t pay last year, but has started paying this year …

    What is the upside of evicting? Evicting someone is a great threat when someone is behind rent by a couple months. Paying the rent might be easier than moving.

    But if someone owes you a whole year of rent, they aren’t paying it. And kicking them out to find another tenant doesn’t help your cash flow.

    1. Does help get more reliable tenants…

    2. But if someone owes you a whole year of rent, they aren’t paying it. And kicking them out to find another tenant doesn’t help your cash flow.

      This one goes on the wall of fame. I might even frame it.

    3. Thanks, Bubba. I thought that the majority of people would be in your boat. Now, it does stink that you lost so much income, especially if your tenant wasn’t actually in distress and just took the excuse to not pay you. However, evictions are a pain on both sides. There’s little wonder that there are relatively few of them.

      1. Bubba didn’t have a tenant. Notice the ‘if’ at the beginning? He is just an opining idiot.

      2. That’s a case for making it much easier to evict a tenant who is violating the terms of his lease contract.

  11. Before Biden extended the moratorium the Chief Judge of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania ordered the Courts to slow down the processing of evictions. Her reasoning was to buy time for people to apply for the Federal funds. How many other places have done this? This could very well be the reason that there hasn’t been a “flood” yet.

    1. In most blue states, the landlord/tenant courts have been closed through the entirely of 2020 and most of 2021. In many, they aren’t even taking filings, so if courts open, there will be backlogs for years.

      I’m very surprised that landlords haven’t become arsonists yet.

  12. SERIOUSLY, people pay your efin rent! Nice try! you can’t use the lockdown as a way to escape rent, I was burdened with it and I still pay my rent. These are the lazy people who want government to take care of them at our expense, no effing way. You want the life of luxury, go find a sugar momma or daddy, don’t use my dime to live that dream!!! and don’t even get me started on the thousands of illegals here who feed off our public assistance system. I hope you all get evicted and end up homeless, or better yet, why don’t you ask the alphabet community to help you out, they seem to be free with their sexuality, why not with their pockets, it’s the least they can do for teaching my child in school what the rainbow stands for when in reality, the rainbow is simply a set of colors offset by the suns rays reflecting off the rain droplets, it’s science folks, not sexual preference!!! Ya’ll can go suck a big fat one, I’m not working so you can be lazy, get off your azz and work or get the F out!!!

    1. Why should they pay when there no penalty? In some cities, rent rates have dropped. Tenants could run out the eviction process then move to a new low-rate apartment.

      This is what government intervention has done.

  13. This article’s message is shit. First, with housing costs at all time highs we need both evictions and foreclosures to free up housing supply and lower prices. Mass foreclosures and evictions will also teach many people a much needed lesson to be responsible and have a rainy day fund. Second, whether it’s with eviction moratoriums or relief/free money to pay your rent, we have a highly distorted housing market that is more akin to housing as a human right garbage you hear from the left. You’d think a supposedly free market magazine wouldn’t be cheering that on as good news.
    Lastly, the people who have been skipping out on rent for a year should be handed a bill, with interest that is unforgivable in bankruptcy for back rent. There are jobs everywhere. There is 0 excuse to not be paying your rent right now and repaying your debt to your landlord.

    1. In blue cities, rents are dropping as landlords are desperate to unload empty apartments and get some cash flow.

      If I was a tenant, I wouldn’t pay. And when the eviction process finally begins, I’d just go to a nicer lower rent apartment or renegotiate my lease.

  14. My federal rent subsidy is too damn high

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