Rent and evictions will continue to soar across the United States unless local and state governments overhaul regulations that were designed to serve the interests of landlords and corporations, experts told Sputnik.
More than four million American adults face likely evictions within the next two months, according to US Census Bureau data, just as rent is skyrocketing and moratoria on evictions imposed during the pandemic expire.
A recent US House panel report said “corporate landlords” evicted tens of thousands of residents last year – even while these protections were in place. Meanwhile, private equity firms and corporations are buying single-family homes at a record pace, a Redfin analysis of county records revealed.
The median rent of a two-bedroom apartment increased nearly 18 percent nationwide in the first quarter of 2022, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). And as noted by Redfin’s Rental Market Tracker, the median monthly asking rent in the US passed $2,000 for the first time in May, with rent surging 48 percent in Austin, Texas and more than 30% in Cincinnati, Seattle, and Nashville.
Juan Pablo Garnham, Audience and Community Engagement Editor at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, said those forced to rent now face obstacles due to government policies and business acquisition of property.
“In many parts of the country, there’s… been regulations that limit access to renters and low-income people, which add pressure to the market, including zoning restrictions and limitations for building more units,” Garnham told Sputnik.
Garnham said the rent squeeze is also exacerbated by “more corporate groups and LLCs buying housing in larger numbers, increasing rent prices, making it more difficult for individual buyers to compete, and potentially provoking evictions and displacement.”
The National League of Cities (NLC) reported a shortage of seven million affordable rental homes last year, while renters racked up billions of dollars’ worth of debt after falling behind during the pandemic. The NLC said consequently, many cost-burdened households are now spending more than half of their paychecks on rent and utilities, as opposed to the 30 percent level often recommended by financial planners.
Empower DC Organizing Director Daniel del Pielago has seen evictions increasing and people living on the streets in the District of Columbia in the wake of the moratorium expiring.
“Landlords can file now that the eviction moratorium has ended. There are protections but not many, not enough,” del Pielago said. “Organizations are trying to provide legal help and support to stop the evictions. We’re seeing tons of people with the scenario of not being able to keep up with the rent. They’re just in this hole and can’t pay rent.”
Another issue, he added, is that once landlords take back units, they sidestep rent control and take much-needed units off the market by raising the rent to the ceiling.
“DC has higher-than-normal rent controls but this is perpetuating higher rents. It’s a big problem. It’s happening here in the District and other parts of the country,” he said. “DC has done better in responding to it. But I think we will feel it more in the coming months because people can’t turn the corner.”
DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) affordable housing analyst Eliana Golding said it is a question of economic policy in a society that sees housing as a commodity and not a basic human right. Too many elected officials and policymakers, she added, look at housing issues in starkly financial terms.
“For example, renters can’t take any deductions, but mortgage interest deductions are available to those holding wealth through the asset of housing. And there are policy choices on the federal and local levels that we can’t undo,” Golding told Sputnik.
Golding described the District of Columbia’s rent control policy as “very outdated,” and in need of an overhaul.
“Rent control is a way to temper markets and keep units, but it has remained stagnant and every year, we lose units,” she said.
Golding said “it took many generations of politicians who got us to this place.”
“This system that is with us is result of centuries of policies and policy choices,” she said. “Even though the system is not the of making of this generation of politicians, they have the means to make changes.”
The experts said to address the crises Congress and state lawmakers must take action including expanding America’s housing stock, revamping evictions laws, and boosting funding for rental assistance to low-income people.
Golding also said it is impossible to discuss the housing crisis without talking about race. She said the country has to reckon with the consequences of generations of racially discriminatory policies and programs devised by federal, state and local elected officials, corporations and others that have locked African Americans out of communities using redlining, restrictive covenants and barriers as well as blocking Black people from buying homes, securing loans and mortgages and limiting the areas of cities and towns where they could live.
“The present system is built on de jure racism, discrimination, segregation and inequity. Certain places received investments and others [Black communities] didn’t,” Golding said. “As you’re investing in one place, that increases in value while causing displacement of people unable to afford homes and apartments spurring gentrification.”