Wake Forest Law prof urges Congressional action to halt eviction crisis

Mattresses and household goods piled against garage door, illustrating eviction

The United States may be facing the most severe housing crisis in its history, a new report published today finds. Wake Forest Law Professor Emily Benfer and her co-authors say without swift and significant federal intervention, the ripple effect of this unprecedented catastrophe will harm generations.

An estimated 30-40 million renters could lose their homes in the next several months due to the pandemic and job loss. The problem extends beyond them to the property owners who may not have the credit or finances to pay mortgages and property taxes without the back rent owed them. And eviction moratoriums are ending.

The report suggests that if conditions do not change, 29 to 43 percent of renter households could be at risk of eviction by the end of the year.

“Unless the United States immediately invests in eviction prevention, we can expect the pillars of resiliency-employment, education, health care and housing-to splinter across the country, especially among communities of color who entered the pandemic at a deficit due to systemic and structural racial discrimination,” said Emily Benfer, law professor at Wake Forest University School of Law and co-creator of the Eviction Lab COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard. “Ultimately, only a long-term solution to housing precarity can protect the millions of Americans who are accruing significant amounts of back rent and the landlords and communities who rely on rent payments.”

Benfer and co-authors said the problem is magnified by the compressed timelines caused by the pandemic. Between March and July 2020, unemployment rates fluctuated between 11-14%. Compare that to the Great Recession with a peak of 10.7% percent unemployment during a year or longer.

Researchers from the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, City Life, the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, The Eviction Lab at Princeton University, the Innovation for Justice Program at the University of Arizona College of Law, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Stout, and Wake Forest University School of Law used U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, projected eviction filings, unemployment data, and housing insecurity statistics to compile the report.

The authors call on Congress to move urgently to provide housing provisions and resources in the next coronavirus relief spending bill, which is being debated right now.

Media Contact: Stephanie Skordas, skordas@wfu.edu or 336.758.5719