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Millions May Lose Their Homes When Moratoria Expire

house, home, housing, residential

house, home, housing, residentialDespite federal and local efforts to halt foreclosures and evictions during a global health crisis, losing a home has become a real threat facing millions of Americans, especially as preventative moratoria [1] expire in December [2] and January [3].  Several reports and publications have examined the implications and possible solutions.

An article by USA Today's N'dea Yancey-Bragg [4], for example, examines the state of Americans' mortgage loans and rent, credit and debt, employment, homelessness, housing policy, and the status of a possible stimulus package. Additionally, the reporter reveals how some minority households suffer disproportionately.

"Black and Latino people are the most likely to be evicted and also the most likely to be hospitalized and die of COVID-19," Emily Benfer, a Wake Forest professor and co-creator of the Eviction Lab COVID-19 Housing Policy Scoreboard, [5] a dataset of evictions, told Yancey-Bragg.

A $908 billion stimulus proposal [6] is working its way through lawmakers, but negotiations could continue through the holidays, USA Today reported. One study by Credello [7] showed that the first round of stimulus checks went largely toward Americans' rents and mortgages.

"If the federal government and the CDC allow the mortarium to lapse in the new year I think we are in for the most terrifying segment of the pandemic experience and that we will see any effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 fail, setting us up for decades if not generations of recovery due to the devastating outcome of such widespread eviction," Benfer told the paper.

To suggest how many evictions and foreclosures could occur if the protections lapsed, Benfer pointed out that "when CARES Act protection lapsed for two weeks earlier this year, evictions spiked as high as 395% above historic levels."

Even extensions of foreclosure moratoria, more stimulus, and increased crisis-related unemployment benefits would not necessarily stave off pending problems, according to Business Insider's Taylor Borden, who wrote, "Experts have said that even if moratoriums are extended [8] and unemployment benefits continue, that could simply be kicking the can down the road [9], delaying a wave of homelessness."

The USA Today piece points to another report [10] by Stout, [10] a global investment bank and advisory firm, which shows that some "14 million American households today are at risk of eviction and have amassed an estimated $25 billion in rental debt. [11] ... 4.9 million of them are likely to receive eviction notices in January, Stout found."

A separate report by FICO showed almost a quarter of study participants said they were not at all or not very confident about their finances remaining stable in the next three months. In fact, 42% of consumers said they had to contact one of their financial services providers to help manage repayment of existing credit commitments since the start of COVID-19. The FICO study concludes that working with a lender is the best way to avoid the eventual loss of property.

"2020 has been a challenge for all, with a large percentage of consumers struggling to pay their bills. Banks and financial service providers play a critical role in helping their customers navigate these uncertain times," said Michael Magaard, VP, Customer Communication Services at FICO.

Another cause for friction and confusion, Benfer told USA Today, is that the CDC's federal moratorium [12] lacked consistent implementation, technical advice from the federal government and education of tenants, so some landlords have continued to evict [13] non-paying tenants.

Many property owners are feeling fiscal pressure [14] due to tenants' inability to pay full or partial rent.

A study by Avail (landlord and tenant data analysis) showed that the months ahead will be critical: "more financial support is needed for renters, either through increases and extensions in unemployment insurance or through direct rental assistance," reported the researchers. "A lack of financial support would affect both renters and their landlords, potentially forcing many individual landlords to sell their properties [15] and leaving renters with even fewer affordable housing options."

A group of homebuilders is among those that have taken legal action against the CDC moratorium [16].