Rent is due in three days, and John Oliver spent Sunday’s episode of ‘Last Week Tonight’ explaining what that means for thousands of families struggling to make ends meet in the middle of a global pandemic.
The HBO host explained how evictions are likely on the rise as employment is down due to COVID-19, and federal mechanisms that have held back the tide — such as stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance, and state and federal moratoriums on evictions — are set to expire soon.
“Experts are predicting horrific outcomes,” Oliver said. “If evictions continue as normal, this public health crisis could soon turn into a full-blown homelessness crisis.”
Evictions have consequences that can hold up individuals “for the rest of [their lives],” Oliver said, explaining how it can lead to heightened residential instability, substandard housing, declines in neighborhood quality, job loss, loss of possessions, and significant difficulties in obtaining new housing.
On top of that, Oliver continued, many eviction hearings will take place over the phone or via Zoom: “A platform you’re only using because it’s not safe for people to leave their homes ... we’re about to go out of our way to throw people out of their homes in the worst possible time.”
A lack of affordable housing is another systemic problem in the US, with the majority of people spending more than half of their income on shelter costs alone, Oliver added, noting that about one million households have been evicted each year for over a decade, disproportionately impacting people of color, with Black women especially vulnerable. Oliver also noted that about one-third of US households are renters, and renters tend to have lower incomes than homeowners.
Federal moratoriums leave a lot of households unprotected, Oliver said, and while evictions have been paused for some, rent has not, so the bills continue to pile up.
“Renters in 23 states have no state level protection from eviction,” Oliver said. “Many tenants have to rely on the kindness of landlords.”
The talk-show host sited efforts in cities such as Houston, where officials allotted $15 million in rent relief, which was gone in 90 minutes. In Ithaca, N.Y., officials are trying to cancel rent for those affected, and calling on the state to fund landlords that need relief.
“But that requires the state and federal government to act,” and Oliver noted lawmakers have largely dragged their feet.
“Nothing has been passed, and rent is due Wednesday.”
The short-term solution, Oliver said, is finding a way to keep people in their homes. The long-term solution cycles back to increased affordable housing in the US.
Watch the full Last Week Tonight segment here.