The growing push to stop evictions during the coronavirus crisis gained some big-name allies on Tuesday.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and Democratic presidential contender Senator Bernie Sanders sent letters to two major apartment industry trade groups and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development calling for an “immediate moratorium” on rental evictions due to the widespread job loss and potential health risks of the quick spread of COVID-19.
“Housing is a basic need for families as they seek to remain safe during this public health emergency,” wrote Warren, Sanders, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, and Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston, in letters to the industry groups. “Evicting families puts their health at risk, imposes trauma on and disrupts the education of their children, and exacerbates the risk of outbreak in their communities.”
A similar letter was sent to HUD, also signed by California Representative Katie Porter, urging a halt to evictions in housing that the federal agency finances — which would include both public housing complexes and a wide range of privately run affordable housing.
Stopping evictions has quickly become a top priority for tenant advocacy groups, who worry the fast-moving crisis could force lower-income tenants from their jobs, leaving them unable to pay rent and vulnerable to losing their homes at a time when many Americans are being urged to stay home.
The Boston Housing Authority has pledged to halt “non-essential” evictions — those that are not required for safety of other residents — and several large landlords and property managers have said they would do the same for at least 30 days. Boston Housing Court, where eviction cases that make it to trial are heard, has delayed most hearings through at least April 22, effectively stopping court-ordered evictions until then.
Still, tenant groups are pushing for longer and stronger protections, and supportive lawmakers have filed legislation on Beacon Hill that would block all evictions and foreclosures while Massachusetts remains in a state of emergency.
The call by Warren, Sanders, and the others, while a letter and not legislation, would take that national. They note that COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in 49 states, and the economic damage from shutdowns designed to slow its spread is being felt in every corner of the nation’s economy. They asked landlords to consider deferring rent payments and dropping late fees for tenants affected by the crisis.
“Housing is already the largest expense for many families,” they wrote, noting that one-third of Americans pay 30 percent or more of their income toward housing. “Given how squeezed these families budgets are, any interruption in income will likely translate into default on rent."