As the week saw the U.S. setting records in cases of coronavirus with states like Texas and Flordia seeing the worst spikes, Mike Pence claimes the country has slowed the spread and flattened the curve to which John Oliver responded: “That is such an open and stupid lie.”
With the surge of cases, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver addressed another crisis the country is about to face as a result of the pandemic: evictions.
With one-third of households in the country being renters and renters tending to have lower incomes than homeowners, the pandemic is going to cause evictions for the foreseeable future. Stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance and state and federal moratoriums on evictions have helped navigate the storm, but those resources are not enough. “Those mechanisms are now starting to run out or expire and if we do nothing, experts are predicting horrific outcomes with millions of people left vulnerable,” said Oliver, adding that the coronavirus crisis can turn into a homelessness crisis.
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As these moratoriums begin to lift, some courts have been holding eviction cases with webcams in separate rooms in the courtroom, over the phone or even on zoom.
“What are you doing?!” exclaimed Oliver. “It might be worth thinking twice about what you’re taking part in. If you’re throwing people out of their homes via Zoom, a platform you’re only using because it’s not safe for people to leave their homes.”
He added, “That fact is, we’re about to go out of our way to throw people out of their homes at the worst possible time.”
Even before the pandemic, evictions have been damaging with long term effects.They have been linked to heightened residential instability, substandard housing, declines in neighborhood quality and job loss. Oliver also points out that on the individual level, evictions would cause families to lose their possessions and make it difficult for them to obtain new housing.
According to statistics Oliver shared, approximately a million households have been evicted each year over the past decade and this has disproportionately impacted people of color. Black households are twice as likely to get evicted than white households. To add to that, women of color, particularly Black women are especially vulnerable. Lack of affordable housing has a systemic problem long before pandemic struck and like everything else, they got even worse.
In a clip from March, Larry Kudlow, who Oliver refers to as a “decomposing melon”, Kudlow unpacks the Trump administration’s plan when it comes to rent. He said that there is a freeze on rent payment and that there will be no evictions during this period. Although it sounds like good news, Oliver said that the policy he is talking about pauses evictions, not rent. For those who can’t pay, the bills will pile up and the policy only applies to certain properties.
“The federal moratorium of evictions left a lot of people unprotected and while several dozen states put in place their own moratoriums, many of those protections have already expired, leaving renters in 23 states with no state-level protection from eviction,” Oliver explains.
Some can rely on the kindness of landlords who have worked with tenants including Mario Salerno, a landlord in New York who waived rent for his 200 tenants in July. However, some aren’t as kind. One renter in Arizona received threatening emails from their landlord in Canada while Michael Bowman in Mecklenburg County in North Carolina is, like many landlords and property managers, waiting to evict tenants at the first available opportunity.
In a news clip, Bowman admitted that he is not one to let tenants go by without paying rent. He is moving forward with evictions despite court hearings being on hold. He talked about how it’s “just business” to throw a single mother and her three kids out into the streets.
Oliver said, “Many of those moratoriums prevent the physical act of eviction but they don’t stop the legal the process that leads up to it.”
Many landlords and property managers have been able to file for evictions in court this whole time. As a result, cases have been piling up as soon as moratoriums are lifted, which are happening, evictions will come fast.
Certain companies are turning it around on tenants basically saying they should have “saved for a rainy day” to avoid eviction while some tenants are demanding rent strikes because they are accumulating debt and won’t be able to pay rent owed.
Oliver points out how rent strikes are risky because you can end up getting evicted for non-payment and, as mentioned, it will be hard to get housing in the future. However, you can see that tenants are pushing for because they are desperate.
“Strikes have been an effective way of calling attention to how dire things are right now and while long term we desperately need a plan to fix our affordable housing crisis, in the short term, we just to find a way to keep people in their homes,” he said.
There have been efforts to help weather the storm but they have not provided solid solutions. Houston, Texas established a $15 million relief fund for renters but it was gone in 90 minutes. The city knew this was going to be an issue and encouraged citizens to reach out to their congressional representatives to advocate for greater funding, but the city can only do so much without federal intervention.
Meanwhile, Ithaca, New York is trying to cancel rent, calling on the state for funding for landlords who need relief. It requires state and fed government to act but as Oliver said, “they are dragging to feet” when it comes to solutions during the pandemic.
The House passed The Heroes Act which offers $1 billon in rental assistance to the most vulnerable, but the act has stalled out in the Senate. “The sad truth is, we already waited too long here,” Oliver said. “There is absolutely no excuse for not attacking this problem with real urgency because while we wait for Congress to act, people are dealing with consequences.”
He continues, “The very worst thing we can do right now is nothing. Every day we fail to act is a day we are compounding a future crisis for millions of vulnerable renters and their communities. We need to stop this before it gets worse”