For Southerners who struggled to pay rent during the recession, a recent federal court ruling could have a devastating effect in a region of the country where eviction rates are already high.
The ruling comes as low-income and working-class families continue to recover from the economic turbulence caused by the pandemic. The Department of Justice is expected to appeal the ruling, which a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., handed down.
Emergency renter protections will remain in fewer than 10 states, including North Carolina and Kentucky, offering safeguards against people being booted out of their homes until the end of June.
But despite the federal ban, eviction filings have risen since August in major cities across the South – a region that has historically led the nation in evictions notices, according to data from the Eviction Lab, a Princeton University-run project that collects nationwide data on evictions.
“We’re concerned and watching eviction filings rise across the American South, Midwest, Plains and Mountain West states,” said Alieza Durana, an Eviction Lab spokesperson. “Unfortunately, we’re receiving reports of tenants receiving eviction notices or having their cases conclude with eviction before rental assistance reaches them.”
The Eviction Lab tracks both eviction filings and the percentage of subsequent removals from the property. In most large and medium-sized cities, filings that results in an eviction are under 20%.
Since March 2020, 11 Southern cities tracked by the Eviction Lab have recorded over 120,000 eviction notices going to renters who have fallen behind on rent. Many of the states in which the 11 cities are located had an eviction moratorium that has since expired. During those periods, eviction notices plummeted but have steadily risen despite the federal ban on evictions, according to the data. The Eviction Lab does not track evictions at the state level in the South.
At the end of the last federal eviction moratorium in August, just prior to a period when evictions were 65% below historical averages, the Eviction Lab saw the largest month on month increase in eviction filings in the cities and states it tracks.
“This increase suggests that many landlords were acutely aware of moratoria and ready to file for eviction as soon as was permitted,” noted an Eviction Lab report from late April 2021.
The report also said that Black people and women remained at a higher risk for eviction than any other group. Black people made up 22.8% of all renters in all tracked cities, but received 35.2% of all eviction filings between mid-March and the end of 2020, according to the report.
The federal moratorium was first established under President Donald Trump in March 2020, responding to rising unemployment and economic fears. The ban was most recently extended to June 30 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal judge who ruled against the CDC extension said the federal agency had exceeded its authority.
While the total number of evictions stemming from the pandemic may not be known for years, landlords in the South have a long history of eviction.
Eviction Lab data from 2016, the most recently available showing the complete state of evictions nationwide, places eight Southern cities in the top 10 for evictions among large cities. At the top is North Charleston, S.C., with an eviction rate of 16.5% of all notices served, equaling around 10 evictions per day.
Among mid-sized cities, nine of the top 10 cities are also in the South, with St. Andrews, S.C., at the top with a 20% eviction rate.
While federal relief is on the way for renters who have fallen behind, the money isn’t coming fast enough in some places, said Durana.
“We’re still seeing many eviction cases filed in Texas, where as of last month only about 250 households out of more than 70,000 applicants had received rental assistance,” she said.
The American Rescue Plan, pushed by the Biden Administration, hopes to deliver $21.5 billion in emergency rental assistance to help “millions of families keep up on rent and remain in their homes,” said a press release from the White House.