Eviction Moratoriums Fall Short: Our Community Members Need Lasting Relief
At CommonBond we know access to an affordable home is a foundational gateway to opportunity. It’s a basic need. Keeping folks housed by preventing evictions is an important step, but moratoriums do not address the most lasting problem created by the pandemic: rent debt.
Recently, the Minnesota legislature passed a bill ensuring tenants cannot be evicted while their application for rental assistance is pending. This bill represents the next evolution of an ongoing effort by the state to support renters during the pandemic, beginning with Gov. Tim Walz’s eviction moratorium in March 2020. It’s an important step and one we know will ensure critical stability for many folks across the state. But it only addresses one piece of a much bigger barrier.
As CommonBond’s EVP of Housing & Services, I regularly speak with our staff across CommonBond Communities who interact with residents every day. For months, they’ve been sharing stories about the lasting impact of the pandemic on residents’ economic stability, mental health, and more. One of the biggest stressors across the board? The piling up of rent owed. While the nation begins to recover into a semblance of normalcy, many low-income renters will still be feeling the economic impacts of the pandemic for months to come.
According to the Rent Debt Dashboard, the national accumulated rent debt is around $19.8 billion, representing 5.74 million households with average debt per household at $3,400. In Minnesota, the total estimated debt is $155.6 million for 53,000 households owing an average of $2,900.
The truth is that residents like ours were the first and most drastically impacted by the effects of the pandemic; existing inequities were exacerbated by pandemic-related economic challenges, and the problem of rent debt hangs over their heads each and every day. When their children ask for a snack or a treat at the grocery store, when they need to pay a medical bill, when they need to pay for gas or other transportation—they are forced to worry about increasing their debts to meet other basic needs.
And the rise in debt balances is not for lack of trying. In fact, we saw spikes in rental collection that directly correlated to the timing of distribution of benefits from various pandemic relief programs over the past year. When residents have the funds, they cover their obligations—but the current programs are not enough to meet the real need. We need faster, ongoing distribution of rental assistance to begin to repair the damage caused by the pandemic, and help create the possibility of thriving, debt-free futures for all.
Thomas Adams, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President of Housing and Services