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No Pandemic Evictions: A Call to Protect DC Residents

Thousands of DC families are at risk of losing their homes in the coming months because the pandemic took away their jobs and ability to pay rent or mortgage. Our leaders have done virtually nothing to stop this wave of evictions and foreclosures. We can’t let that happen.

It would be a moral and policy failure if even one family lost their home because their job disappeared in the pandemic.

A crush of evictions would be devastating to the DC economy — especially to Black and brown communities — and it would make our community’s pandemic recovery even longer.

We can’t let that happen. Instead, we must adopt policies to keep everyone in their homes. The best option would be federal assistance to support struggling tenants, like the federal Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act. But federal aid is uncertain and must be backed by robust local policies, including:

  • A permanent ban on evictions or foreclosures for people who got behind during the pandemic
  • An increase in eviction prevention assistance
  • Help for small landlords who face hardship

The Mayor’s office and DC Council are failing to address the wave of eviction and foreclosures that is sure to come when the moratorium lifts. Join me in demanding that the Mayor protect tenants across the city.

What’s Happened So Far? Not Enough!

The Mayor and Council are acting as if they don’t see this wave of evictions and foreclosures coming, when it is staring us all in the face.

The District has not done enough to protect renters and homeowners in the pandemic. Legislation passed this spring puts a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic emergency and for 60 days after that, as well as a moratorium on debt collection and utility or cell phone shut-offs. The District has also prohibited landlords from raising rents.

But these actions will do nothing to stop evictions, foreclosures, or cell phone or utility shut-offs after the moratorium is over, which could be as early as December. Even if many residents get their jobs back, they won’t have the money to pay back rent. The Council passed legislation requiring landlords to create payment plans with tenants, but the legislation doesn’t protect tenants who become behind on their plan.

This means there will be a huge increase of evictions, foreclosures, utility shut-offs, and debt collection actions as soon as the pandemic ends, turning a public health crisis into a housing and economic security crisis.

What’s Needed? Let’s Cancel Evictions!

The only way to stop evictions is to ban them. That is the outcome we want, and that is the path we should take.

The solution is straightforward. I propose prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants who fell behind in the pandemic due to a loss of income. If someone could not pay rent in the spring or summer while waiting for unemployment insurance, their landlord should not be able to evict them for that — ever.  

This permanent moratorium covering pandemic months would enable tenants to negotiate with landlords to forgive some or all of their rent.

Similarly, banks should not be able to foreclose on homeowners, and utilities and cell phone companies should not be able to cut off customers if they can show they were unable to pay fully because of the pandemic, now or ever. Cell phone companies and utilities should be forced to negotiate reductions in payments and payment plans.

Steps to Help Affected Landlords

This policy will force landlords to absorb some of the financial impact of the pandemic.  Undoubtedly, many landlords are already doing this, because they know tenants cannot pay. Passing it as a city-wide policy would make every landlord play by this rule.

While this approach makes sense, it would create hardship for some landlords, especially those with a small number of rental units. That, in turn, could make it hard for landlords to pay utility bills or pay for building maintenance.

The District could help landlords in a targeted way in combination with an eviction moratorium.

  • First, the District should greatly expand funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and create a special fund for small landlords facing financial hardship. The budget for ERAP for next year is well below what advocates argued is needed to protect families.
  • Second, the District should create a landlord relief fund to assist landlords who can show they face extreme hardship. This fund could be created using a small portion of DC’s $1.2 billion in reserves. This would allow tenants to stay in their homes without worry and put more of the responsibility for applying for assistance on landlords, rather than expecting tenants to do all the work to prevent evictions. 
The Long-Term Goal: More Affordable Housing, More Social Housing

Eviction is a deeply traumatic experience. It can send families on a downward spiral and have lasting impacts on children. As a community, we should work to minimize evictions.

One approach is to make it harder for landlords to evict tenants. But as long as housing is privately owned — and as long as jobs pay too little to make housing affordable — evictions will continue to occur all too frequently.

The best long-term solutions are to create more affordable housing and to put more of our housing stock under public control.

  • End DC’s Affordable Housing Crisis in 10 Years: We must commit to provide the funding needed to address every low-income family struggling with making rent payments that eat up almost all of their income and leave them at risk of homelessness.
  • Start Building Social Housing: DC needs to expand the stock of housing that is outside of the private market, for families at a range of income levels. Social housing refers to housing controlled by the government or nonprofits, which allows it to focus on permanent affordability and price stability, resident rights and control, and social equality goals such as economic and racial integration. Through social housing, the market pressures that lead to price increases and rapid evictions would be eliminated.

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Paid for by Ed Lazere for DC Council At-Large, P.O. Box 4563, Washington, DC 20017. Joslyn “Jos” Williams, Treasurer. A copy of our report is filed with the Director of Campaign Finance of the District of Columbia Board of Elections.

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