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Evictions rise sharply in places with no pandemic protections for renters

NOEL KING, HOST:

Now that the Supreme Court has struck down a federal moratorium on evictions, landlords are filing to evict people who've gotten behind on their rent. Now, this is despite the fact that billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance from Congress is finally getting to renters. NPR's Chris Arnold explains what's going on.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: OK, first, the good news is that while it took a while for that money from Congress to really start flowing, now it is, and so far more than $10 billion has reached 2 million households to help them pay their back rent and avoid eviction.

WALLY ADEYEMO: This means the kids are able to stay in school. Their parents are able to stay in their jobs.

ARNOLD: Wally Adeyemo is the deputy U.S. Treasury secretary. He's been overseeing 500 state and local programs that are working to distribute the money. And he says, clearly, this is now making a difference.

ADEYEMO: It's very encouraging to see the progress we've made over the last several months, as the national eviction moratorium has ended.

ARNOLD: So that's good - a lot more help is reaching a lot more people. The bad news for renters is that evictions are rising anyway because that national moratorium was protecting a lot of people. Peter Hepburn is a researcher at the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. He says throughout much of the pandemic, twice as many people have been behind on rent as normal, but eviction filings were only at about half their normal level. But then...

PETER HEPBURN: The CDC eviction moratorium ends at the end of August.

ARNOLD: And he says each month since then, nationally, eviction filings have been going up - in September, up 12%.

HEPBURN: And when we look at the first two weeks of October, they were 25% higher than two months ago.

ARNOLD: And that includes some states and cities that still have their own local protections that are blocking evictions, like in New York and California. But in places with no eviction bans, landlords are filing a lot more eviction cases. Now, some states and cities are doing a much better job than others at getting that money from Congress to people, so Hepburn had hoped to see evictions rising more slowly in those places. But that is not what's happening. He says, take Houston.

HEPBURN: Yeah, Houston is sort of the poster child, right? That program has gotten a ton of money out the door, and they've gotten a lot of landlord buy-in. And yet we've seen, really, kind of astronomical increases in the number of eviction cases being filed down there over the last few weeks.

ARNOLD: Hepburn says eviction filings have doubled in Houston from about half of normal to now a bit above the historical average pace of evictions there. Hepburn says, of course, things could be much worse without this help from Congress. That's one big reason we haven't seen a giant catastrophic wave of people getting displaced from their homes. A lot of experts had worried about that. Almost all the cities he's tracking, even those without special protections for renters, they may be rising, but most are still below the historical average.

OK, but a lot of people still need help. More than 8 million Americans are behind on rent. Tawana Broxton is one of them. She's a single mom in Marietta, Ga.

TAWANA BROXTON: The landlord is saying, we just want to out; you need to get out right now. And I start crying.

ARNOLD: Broxton was actually approved for rental assistance help, but she says her landlord won't cooperate with the program. An attorney for the landlord had no comment. The Treasury Department wants programs to cut checks directly to renters so they can get the money, but many still require that the landlord take part. And Broxton says she and her 13-year-old daughter have no place else to go.

BROXTON: If we were to be evicted, we would have to be out in seven days. We would have to go to a homeless shelter. And I don't want my kids to face that. I would have a nervous breakdown.

ARNOLD: With evictions rising, the Treasury Department is now going to start clawing back some of the money from places that are bungling their rental assistance efforts and give it to programs that are helping more people.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF YONDERLING'S "WEST WINDOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.